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Position Statement on Asbestos July 2012

Epidemiologist Position Statement on Asbestos Calls for Worldwide Ban

The Position Statement on Asbestos from the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology (JPC-SE) unequivocally calls for a worldwide ban on the use, mining and exportation of asbestos. Thorough and objective scientific investigation clearly shows that asbestos kills, causing hundreds of thousands to die of mesothelioma and other related diseases every year.

Ever since asbestos manufacturers were being sued in mesothelioma lawsuits, defendants have hired scientists who make statements that create questioning or doubt of the causal link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. This statement, and the research behind it, clearly establish that link and show that defendant experts’ assertions have been based on “junk science.”

To pull out a few highlights from the report:

Asbestos Kills and All Use Should Cease

“A broad range of epidemiology organizations came together for the first time to clearly state that all forms of asbestos are harmful and causally related to disease and death. The Position Statement on Asbestos from the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology (JPC-SE) was released on July 24, 2012. The Statement has rapidly garnered worldwide support. It calls, without any equivocation, for all mining, trade, and use of asbestos to cease.”

Who’s Behind the Statement & Why It Can Be Trusted

“In the development of the Position Statement on Asbestos, several sets of expert epidemiologists painstakingly examined the data, relying quite heavily also on the recent International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluation (2012). After a rigorous process requiring each society to review the statement as per its respective internal procedures, nine societies agreed to endorse a very clear Statement that addresses controversial issues head-on. The public, the media, and governments need to understand: there is no credible counterpoint. In summary, this Statement presents an example where a durable consensus was reached among the historically conservative profession of epidemiologists. Supposed controversy, as noted by the Statement, was fomented by some ‘junk science,’ funded by the asbestos industry and their paid consultants, that contaminated the asbestos literature.”

Why the JPC-SE was Formed

“The JPC-SE, as an organization, was formed in 2006. This occurred in a context where there has been a widespread perception among scientists that societal policies are often pursued and implemented without due attention to the facts, and with undue influence from personal beliefs, business interests, and/or narrow or short-term considerations.7 This impression exists in many different countries with respect to an increasing variety of issues and settings. Growing concerns about these and other matters over the last two decades among epidemiologists helped in providing the impetus for the formation of the JPC-SE.”

The Statement recognizes that epidemiologists and other relevant experts had reached a broad consensus about the harms of asbestos, but that this consensus was being ignored by policy makers in some countries, and that some of the populations being affected remain largely ignorant of the dangers. Both the public and policy-makers have often been misled by powerful asbestos interests. Epidemiologists have accumulated the data on the harms of asbestos the hard, but standard way — through the steady, careful, but cold and dispassionate accumulation of morbidity and mortality data from a vast array of studies representing a variety of epidemiologic approaches, from case reports and case series signifying sentinel events, to observational study designs.

The initial process by the JPC-SE entailed a careful review of many credible studies and reviews concerning asbestos, including apparently definitive declarations by well-reputed, impartial bodies such as that by the World Health Organization in 2006 and its affiliate organization, the IARC, in 2012. With the recognition by the JPC-SE that the asbestos industry questioned the association of disease with some forms of asbestos, a careful examination of these contrary claims was undertaken to ascertain what, if any, validity there might be in them.”

If Asbestos is Banned in the US, Where is It All Going

“The latest figures show that 64% of asbestos sold in 2011 went to Asian countries, where there is virtually no collection of data on asbestos-related diseases and deaths. Two countries alone – China and India – represent 46% of 2011 global asbestos consumption. Monitoring of asbestos-related diseases has been virtually non-existent in these two countries."

In the Executive Summary, the JPC-SE writes:

” In spite of the scientific evidence and calls to end all use of asbestos by many organizations including the World Health Organization, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the International Commission on Occupational Health, the International Social Security Association, the International Trade Union Confederation and the World Bank, the use of asbestos is increasing in low-to-middle income countries. There is little awareness in these countries of the risk that asbestos poses to health; in addition, safety regulations are weak to nonexistent.

If unstopped, this continued and increasing use of asbestos will lead to a public health disaster of asbestos-related illness and premature death for decades to come in those countries, repeating the epidemic we are witnessing today in industrialized countries that used asbestos in the past. Therefore, the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology (JPC-SE), comprising epidemiologists from around the world:

  • Calls for a global ban on the mining, use, and export of all forms of asbestos;
  • Calls specifically on the major asbestos exporting countries – Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia – to respect the right to health by ceasing the mining, use, and export of asbestos, and providing transition assistance to their asbestos-mining communities;
  • Calls specifically on the major asbestos-using countries – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam – to cease use of asbestos;
  • Urges sister societies of epidemiology and/or public health organizations and agencies, particularly in those countries that continue to mine, use and/or export asbestos, such as Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, to adopt a position calling for a ban on the mining, use, and export of all forms of asbestos.

 Making the Statement Accessible to All

The Position Statement on Asbestos is aimed at audiences that may not have ready access to academic journals. Thus, an effort was made to make the sources underlying the report readily accessible to readers. Whenever possible, publicly accessible sources on the Internet are provided, contributing to informing policy at two levels: the public as well as government. To further extend accessibility, all material was released in both English and French at the outset. The full text is available in Portuguese, and the Executive Summary and media release are being translated into Chinese, Russian and other languages. All translations are being posted on www.jpc-se.org/position.htm as they are developed.

To read the full report and executive summary, click on the image of the report at the top of this page.