Asbestos industry under microscope – by Michelle LaLonde (Montreal Gazette – February 11, 2012)

Call for government to stop financial aid

If you were a private investor looking to sink some money into a promising venture, the expansion of an asbestos mine in Quebec may not sound like a great bet these days.

Quebec’s asbestos industry has been taking a heavy pounding of late, with two damning documentaries airing on CBC and Radio-Canada, renewed calls from politicians in Quebec City and Ottawa to outlaw the cancer-causing mineral, and a review launched into some industry-funded research at McGill this week.

On Friday, the opposition Québec Solidaire called on the provincial and federal governments to stop financing the asbestos industry and to ban export of the mineral. Parti Québécois mining critic Martine Ouellette told Canadian Press she wants a parliamentary commission to look at the issue.

The calls are partly in response to a documentary aired on Radio-Canada Thursday evening “that reveals the true face of a lobby that in the past has had no scruples at all about manipulating the facts to the detriment of human health to defend its financial interests,” according to the Québec Solidaire statement.

McGill University announced Thursday it has launched a preliminary review into the work of professor emeritus John Corbett McDonald, after the university received a letter last week signed by dozens of academics, physicians and researchers accusing some McGill researchers of being controlled by the asbestos industry.

On Friday, an official complaint was lodged with Mc-Gill by many of those same academics.

“We call on McGill University to carry out a thorough, independent and transparent investigation of the allegation that the Quebec asbestos industry had improper influence over the epidemiological research carried out by Prof. J. C. McDonald and his unit at McGill; that the research is flawed, lacks transparency and contains manipulated data; that requests for the study data to be released have been refused; that the research minimized the threat to health posed by chrysotile asbestos; and that Prof. McDonald and others at times denied that the asbestos industry was funding the research,” reads the complaint.

A letter attached to the complaint says that no one within the department of epidemiology, of which Mc-Donald is a past chair, should be conducting the preliminary review.

“It is our understanding that (members of that department) were involved in the research in question or are related to Prof. McDonald by family ties,” the letter says.

The Radio-Canada documentary detailed how the asbestos industry in Quebec engaged McDonald to produce studies that would raise doubt about U.S. studies that showed chrysotile causes cancer.

“The Quebec asbestos lobby continues today to cite McDonald’s research as evidence that exposure to levels of chrysotile asbestos fibres two hundred times higher than permitted in Europe, the U.S. and most of Canada, will cause no harm to health,” the letter charges.

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