What's Going on at IARC?
The naming of a representative of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a delegate to an asbestos conference in Kiev next week (November 21-22, 2012) has set off an avalanche of criticism.1 In a November 12 email to Joachim Schuz, IARC's Head of Environment and Radiation, veteran trade union campaigner Bill Lawrence wrote:
I wonder if Dr McCormack is aware of the likely purpose of the conference, and if she has considered by her participation she may discredit both herself and IARC? Has she not noticed hardly any of her fellow contributors come from European countries which in the main have ceased to use chrysotile on recognising its harmful properties?
In a his reply, Dr. Schuz restated IARC's position on chrysotile all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans and reaffirmed that IARC scientists will not be party to any adopted resolution or other form of 'consensus' statement foreseen as possible outcome of the meeting.
Well, so far so good or so I thought until I did a bit more digging. On Dr. Schuz's IARC webpage is listed his participation in a current research project entitled: Historical cohort study of cancer mortality following exposure to chrysotile asbestos at the Uralasbest plant in Asbest, Russian Federation.2 The first researcher named in this project is Evgeny Kovalesky, an individual well-known for his links to and support for the Russian asbestos industry. I was able to witness Kovalesky in action on August 31, 2012 when he testified during asbestos hearings at the Supreme Court in Brasilia.3
His nomination to appear as an expert witness was made jointly by the Brazilian Chrysotile Institute, an asbestos industry trade body, and the National Confederation of Chrysotile Industry Workers, a labor group supported by the asbestos industry. After Kovalevsky's disjointed and underwhelming presentation4, he was asked a pointed question by the judge to which no satisfactory response was forthcoming. This lack of candor was remarked upon. Kovalevsky and the papers he authors are key weapons in the arsenal of the Russian pro-asbestos lobby.
IARC has an important role to play in the global fight for human health. It is of great concern to civil society that IARC's performance and reputation is being put into question by its willingness to engage in problematic research activities and meetings. IBAS strenuously urges IARC officials to reconsider Dr. McCormack's participation in Kiev next week and to make more known about its collaborations with Kovalevsky and other personnel and institutions associated with the Russian asbestos lobby.5
November 16, 2012
1 See: Kazan-Allen L. Chrysotile Industry Counteroffensive 2012. November 11, 2012.
Kiev Conference Agenda
4 Presentation by Evgeny Kovalesky and courtroom exchanges. Brasilia, August 31, 2012.
5 Another ongoing IARC project which requires clarification is: A large-scale retrospective research of cancer risks caused by occupational exposure to chrysotile asbestos-containing dust
V McCormack, J Schuz, S Schonfeld and M Moissonier (IARC). Collaboration with Scientific Research Institute of Occupational Health of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences.