A Scientist, a Professor and a Businessman 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The title of this article is reminiscent of the well-worn jokes that begin – an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman ... But this is not a joke. The Scientist is Ken Donaldson, the Professor is John Corbett McDonald and the businessman is Stephan Schmidheiny, all of whom have been challenged in recent weeks over their part in a global epidemic which is, according to the World Health Organization, claiming more than 90,000 lives a year.

The Scientist

Ken Donaldson's involvement in litigation-driven research commissioned by U.S. asbestos defendant Georgia-Pacific (GP) was forensically examined in a stunning feature in Hazards Magazine entitled “Dust storm: 'Crime-fraud' allegations cloud conference.”1 The published papers which resulted from the GP initiative, some of which were co-authored by Donaldson, were honed to provide ammunition to defend lawsuits brought by asbestos claimants. Commenting on this issue, Seth Shulman of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Hazards: “there's every indication that those studies were misinformation deliberately planted to cast doubt on the carcinogenic nature of chrysotile asbestos, a component in Georgia Pacific's widely used joint compound for construction purposes.”

The Professor

From 1966 onwards, Emeritus Professor John Corbett McDonald, was paid over $1 million by Canadian asbestos stakeholders to conduct research regarding the health effects of exposure to chrysotile asbestos. His results, which found that chrysotile was “essentially innocuous,” are still being used by global asbestos pushers to reassure potential customers that asbestos can be used safely despite the legions of international agencies and independent scientists who say otherwise. On multiple occasions, McDonald has been accused by academics, scientists and activists of research misconduct and improprieties.2 Earlier this month, the Epimonitor detailed the most recent allegations made which include charges brought against the institution where McDonald headed the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health – McGill University.

The Businessman

In 1996, 48-year old Swiss entrepreneur and darling of the sustainable development lobby Stephan Schmidheiny received an honorary degree from Yale University. Sixteen years later, he was convicted by an Italian criminal court of multiple charges related to thousands of asbestos deaths. An Italian asbestos victims' group AFEVA has petitioned the authorities at Yale to “strip” Schmidheiny of this prestigious honor.3 As of now, Yale has refused to do so.4

Optimists might find it reassuring that people whose activities have provided succour and assistance to the purveyors of deadly asbestos have been exposed. Unfortunately, it seems that wherever asbestos dollars are on offer, there are any number of people eager to do the industry's bidding. In December, the asbestos clan is holding a sham conference in New Delhi to reassure government officials, civil servants, workers and members of the public that the products which they sell, all of which contain asbestos fiber, can and should be used in India.5 Despite all the ill health, deaths, medical and scientific warnings, the asbestos war machine marches on relentlessly. There is some solace in knowing that those who aid and abet this industry are being exposed. Of more import, however, is the knowledge that activists in India and elsewhere will not rest until the campaign to ban asbestos has achieved its goal of a permanent and worldwide end to the mining, processing and use of all types of asbestos. The struggle continues.

November 14, 2013


1 O'Neill R. Dust storm: 'Crime-fraud' allegations cloud conference. July-September 2013 issue.
Also see: Morris. J. Facing lawsuits over deadly asbestos, paper giant launched secretive research program. October 21, 2013.

2 Asbestos Activist Alleges a Failure of Ethics in Conducting and Using research at McGill. November 5, 2013.

3 AFEVA. Revoke asbestos magnate's honorary doctorate. September 23, 2013.

4 Newsham J. A Toxic Legacy. September 8, 2013.
Also see: Haar D. Asbestos Victims Ask Yale To Revoke Honorary Degree Of Former Factory Owner. September 27, 2013.
Italian Asbestos Victims Call on Yale To Revoke Honorary Degree to Schmidheiny. September 30, 2013.

5 Agenda of asbestos industry conference:



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