UN Cancer Agency asked to sever its ties to asbestos propagandists

Kathleen RuffDr Christopher Wild

Director, International Agency for Research on Cancer

World Health Organization

March 27, 2013

Dear Dr. Wild,

Re: Our grave concerns regarding IARC’s collaboration (Uralasbest research project on chrysotile asbestos) with an Institute and scientists who have demonstrated unethical and improper conduct by misrepresenting their scientific findings in an earlier Uralasbest research project on chrysotile asbestos.

We call on you to terminate IARC’s collaboration with the Scientific Research Institute of Occupational Health of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (RAMS) and with Dr. Evgeny Kovalevskiy because of unethical and improper scientific conduct on their part – conduct which is incompatible with the standards expected of IARC or any reputable scientific agency.

1) In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) terminated the status of RAMS as a WHO Collaborating Centre. The WHO was disturbed by the close relationship between RAMS and the Russian asbestos industry. The director of RAMS, Dr. N. Izmerov, was, in fact, the first president of the Russian Chrysotile Institute, the industry’s lobby group, and is a longtime advocate for the asbestos industry.

2) Dr. Kovalevskiy and other scientists at RAMS continue to promote the interests of the Russian asbestos industry instead of pursuing impartial science. They have lobbied the European Union and the Supreme Court of Brazil not to ban chrysotile asbestos. In so doing, Dr. Kovalevskiy and the other RAMS scientists deny the overwhelming independent, reputable, scientific evidence, including that of IARC, regarding the hazards to health posed by chrysotile asbestos.

It constitutes scientific misconduct that, in their presentations to the European Commission(1), to the Brazil Supreme Court(2), in scientific papers(3) and to the public(4), Dr. Kovalevskiy and the other scientists at RAMS deliberately misrepresent the findings of the 1995 joint Finnish-Russian-American research project(5) on asbestos miners and millers at Uralasbest, Russia, the world’s biggest producer of chrysotile asbestos.

Dr. Kovalevskiy and other scientists at RAMS falsely and repeatedly state that the Uralasbest research project proved that chrysotile asbestos no longer causes harm to the health of Russian asbestos workers, and that the research project provided evidence that supports their position that chrysotile asbestos should continue to be used.

These statements are a gross misrepresentation of the scientific findings of this project; they are totally false. The Uralasbest research project provided no such evidence. The study did not include cancer incidence and provided no evidence whatsoever regarding cancer risks from exposure to chrysotile asbestos.

It should furthermore be noted that the mean number of years since first exposure to chrysotile asbestos for the workers included in the Uralasbest study was 25 years, which is an insufficient latency period to allow any reliable risk estimates to be made of the long-latent asbestos-related diseases.

It is a gross deception on the part of Dr. Kovalevskiy to claim that this study provided evidence that only workers exposed to huge levels of chrysotile asbestos in the distant past had been harmed, and that no harm had been caused to the health of workers since those times.

A signer to this letter, Dr. Richard A. Lemen, was the principal representative of the United States and one of the originators of the Joint US/Finnish/Russian study. He confirms that the findings of this earlier Uralasbest study, and of the papers published as a result of this study, provide no scientific evidence that supports the argument that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used.

To use data, collected in the name of the Uralasbest Joint research project, as supposedly constituting evidence that supports continued use of chrysotile asbestos is a misrepresentation of the data and constitutes either incompetence or unethical conduct on the part of Dr. Kovalevskiy and the other RAMS scientists.

In light of these facts, it is indefensible that IARC has installed Dr. Kovalevskiy as its lead scientist on a new Uralasbest research project on chrysotile asbestos.

3) Just as Dr. Kovalevskiy and the RAMS scientists misused the earlier Uralasbest research project as ammunition in their lobbying efforts to promote continued use of asbestos, the Russian government is already using IARC’s collaboration in the new Uralasbest research project to crush initiatives to ban asbestos in developing countries(6).

The Russian asbestos industry newsletter reports(7) that, during trade negotiations with Thailand, Russia succeeded in persuading the government of Thailand to delay its proposed ban on the use and import of asbestos. In announcing this decision, the head of the Russian trade delegation, Igor Manylov, specifically noted, as information to justify the deferment of the ban, that “Russia has initiated a study with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the impact of asbestos and asbestos containing materials on human health.” (translation)

This represents a perversion of scientific research. IARC should not allow its name and reputation to be used by the government of Russia to defeat initiatives by health professionals in developing countries to ban asbestos.

4) The RAMS Research Institute of Occupational Health, of which Dr. Kovalevskiy is director, co-sponsored the international conference Chrysotile asbestos: assessment and risk management, held in Kiev, Ukraine in November 2012. The conference was proposed by Russia and the Ukraine at the 5th Rotterdam Convention Conference of the Parties (COP5) in 2011 as a means of defeating the recommendation of the Convention’s expert scientific body (the Chemical Review Committee) to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance, which Russia and the Ukraine opposed.

At the Kiev conference, a draft resolution was presented. It called for a refusal to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance at the upcoming May 2013 6th Conference of the Parties. The draft resolution stated that the Kiev conference “was held in accordance with recommendations of the V Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (19-25 June 2011, Geneva).” The draft resolution was approved by the Kiev conference.

The draft resolution put forward totally false information. In no way whatsoever did the 2011 Conference (COP5) endorse the recommendation put forward by Russia and the Ukraine. In fact, it was specifically opposed as an effort to undermine the recommendation of the Chemical Review Committee(8).

At COP5, the WHO expressed disappointment that a decision to list chrysotile asbestos had not been taken “given that the criteria for listing have been met”.

It is indefensible that IARC is collaborating with the RAMS Research Institute of Occupational Health – an institute that has demonstrated a history of misconduct in serving the interests of the asbestos industry and currently is seeking to undermine the UN Rotterdam Convention.

We ask you, as Director of IARC, to discontinue collaboration with scientists and organizations known to misrepresent research data for the promotion of commercial interests.

We have copied this letter to Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. If you refuse to address these grave concerns of improper and unethical conduct on the part of IARC, then we ask that Director-General Chan call for your resignation and initiate a review of how IARC permitted this profoundly respected agency of the WHO to be infiltrated by a scientist, such as Dr. Kovalevskiy, who distorts scientific findings to advance the interests of the asbestos industry.


DR RICHARD A. LEMEN, Ph.D., MSPH, Assistant Surgeon General (ret.), Rear Admiral, USPHS (ret.); Adjunct Professor, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

DR ARTHUR L. FRANK, MD, PhD, Professor of Public Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, PA, USA

DR BARRY CASTLEMAN, ScD, Environmental Consultant, USA; author, Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, USA

DR COLIN L. SOSKOLNE, Professor of Epidemiology, Dept of Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Australia; Immediate Past-President, Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics

KATHLEEN RUFF, author, Exporting Harm; Senior Human Rights Adviser, Rideau Institute; Co-coordinator, Rotterdam Convention Alliance (ROCA)


Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization

Giuseppe Ruocco, Aide to Renato Balduzzi, Minister of Health, Italy


DR. NICHOLAS A. ASHFORD, PhD., JD, Professor of Technology and Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA; Former Chair, US National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health

PROF. NURSEN BASARAN, Hacettepe University, Faculty of Pharmacy, Department of Toxicology, Ankara, Turkey

DR. MICHELINE BEAUDRY, Ph.D., professeure retraitée, l’Université Laval, Québec, Canada

DR. FIORELLA BELPOGGI, Director, Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Centre, Ramazzini Institute, Italy

DR. JAMES BROPHY, PhD, University of Windsor; former Executive Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada

PROFESSOR SURASAK BURANATREVEDH, MD, DrPH, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus, Thailand

DR. CHALERMCHAI CHAIKITTIPORN, PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Public Health, Mahidol University, Thailand

DR SANJAY CHATURVEDI, MD, FAMS, FIPHA, FIAPSM, Professor & Head, Dept. of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, India

DR. ING. PAIBOON CHOUNGTHONG, King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand

ANDRÉ CICOLELLA, Scientific adviser, INERIS, National Institute for Environment and Risks, France

DR. AQIEL DALVIE, Associate Professor; Programme Leader, Chemical Toxicity and Exposures, University of Cape Town, South Africa

EVA DELGADO ROSAS, Licencie en Sociologie, Secretaria Tecnica, Consejo Nacional de Salud Ocupacional, Presidenta, Asociacion Frente al Asbesto, Perú

DR. LUIZ AUGUSTO FACCHINI, Medical Epidemiologist, Professor, Department of Social Medicine, Counselor, ABRASCO (Brazilian Association on Collective Health), Brazil

DR. CATHEY EISNER FALVO, MD, MPH, President, International Society of Doctors for the Environment; Professor and Chair, International Public Health, New York Medical College (retired); Professor of Pediatrics, NYMC (retired), USA

DR. HELENO R. CORRÊA FILHO, Dr.PH, MD, Epidemiologist, Associate Professor, UNICAMP, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Brazil

DR. ERICA FRANK, MD, MPH, Professor and Canada Research Chair, School of Population and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Canada

DR. JAIRO ERNESTO LUNA GARCÍA, PhD, Professor, National University of Colombia

DR. LUIS CUAUHTÉMOC HARO GARCÍA, PhD, Academia de Salud Comunitaria, Promoción a la Salud, Universidad de la Ciudad de México, Mexico

DR THOMAS H GASSERT, MD, MSc, Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Boston, MA, USA; Visiting Scientist in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Harvard University School of Public Health, USA

FERNANDA GIANNASI, Civil Engineer, Labor Inspector, Brazilian Federal Ministry of Labor and Employment; Founder, ABREA, the Brazilian Association of People Exposed to Asbestos, Brazil

DR PIERRE GOSSELIN, MD, MPH, Director, WHO-PAHO Collaborating Center on Occupational and Environmental Health, CHUQ-INSPQ-DSP, Québec, Canada

DR. JOSEPH GRAZIANO, PhD, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Professor of Pharmacology, Columbia University – Mailman School of Public Health; Director, The Columbia University Superfund Research Program, New York, USA

DR MORRIS GREENBERG, MB, FRCP, FFOM, former, HM Medical Inspector of Factories, UK

DR JAMES HUFF, PhD., Guest Researcher, Chemical Carcinogenesis, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Research, Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA

DR. PETER F. INFANTE, D.D.S., Dr.P.H., F.A.C.E., Peter F. Infante Consulting, LLC; Formerly Director, Office of Standards Review, Health Standards Program, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, D.C., USA

DR MOHAMED F JEEBHAY, MBChB, PhD, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health Research, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa

DR. T K JOSHI, Director, OEM Programme, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, New Delhi; Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy; Visiting Professor, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, USA

DR. MARGARET KEITH, PhD, University of Windsor; former Research Coordinator, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, ON, Canada

DR. DAVID G. KERN, M.D., M.O.H, Consultant in Occupational and Environmental Medicine; Formerly, Associate Professor of Medicine, Brown University, USA

DR. PATTAPONG KESSOMBOON, MD, PhD., Faculty of Medicine, Khon Kaen University, Thailand

DR JOHN R. KEYSERLINGK, MD., MSc., FRCS(C)., FACS, Director, Medicine & Surgical Oncology, Ville Marie Oncology Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

DR. RICHARD KLASA, MDCM, FRCPC, Lymphoma and Melanoma Tumor Groups, Division of Medical Oncology, British Columbia Cancer Agency and Department of Experimental Therapeutics, BC Cancer Research Centre;Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Canada

DR. NIKLAS KRAUSE, MD, MPH, PhD, Professor, Dept. of Environmental Health Sciences and Dept. of Epidemiology, Fielding School of Public Health; Director, Southern California NIOSH Education and Research Center, University of California Los Angeles, USA

DR. VITHAYA KULSOMBOON, PH.D., Associate Professor and Director of Social Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

PROFESSOR LESLIE LONDON, Director: School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town Health Sciences Faculty, South Africa

DR. GUADALUPE AGUILAR MADRID, PhD, Unidad de Investigación en Salud en el Trabajo, Centro Médico Nacional Siglo XXI.IMSS, Mexico

DR. DAVID C.F. MUIR, PhD, FRCP, Professor Emeritus, MacMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

Dr. PETER ORRIS, MD, MPH, FACOEM, FACP, Professor and Chief of Service, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, USA

DAVID OZONOFF, MD, MPH, Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, USA

DR. DOMYUNG PAEK, MD, MSc, ScD, Dean, School of Public Health, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea

DR. DANIELA PELCLOVA, MD, Ph.D., Professor of Occupational Medicine, Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini; Head, Department of Occupational Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic

DR. CUAUHTEMOC A. JUAREZ PEREZ, MSc, MD, Unidad de Investigación en Salud en el Trabajo, Centro Médico Nacional Siglo XXI.IMSS, Mexico

DR PITCHAYA PHAKTHONGSUK, MD, PhD, Occupational Health Unit, Community Medicine Department, Faculty of Medicine, Prince of Songkla University, Hatyai, Thailand

DR. WANTANEE PHANPRASIT, PhD, Faculty of Public Health, Mahidol University, Thailand

DR. FRIEDRICH POTT, MD, Professor of Hygiene 1980, Emeritus member, Collegium Ramazzini, E.W.Baader-Preis for Occupational Medicine, Germany

PROF. QAMAR RAHMAN, Ph.D, D.Sc (hc), FNASc, FST, Visiting Professor, Rostock University, Germany; Dean of Research (Science and Technology), Amity University, Lucknow India

DR. SUTHEE RATTANAMONGKOLGUL,PhD, Faculty of Medicine, Srinakharinwirot University,Thailand

DR. KNUT RINGEN, DrPH, MHA, MPH, Senior Science Advisor, CPWR: The Center for Construction Research and Training; Vice President, ISSA Section for Prevention in the Construction Industry; Secretary and Immediate Past President, Scientific Committee on Occupational Health in the Construction Industry; Past Chair, US National Advisory Committee on Safety and Health in the Construction Industry, USA

DR. BEATE RITZ, MD, PhD, Chair, Department of Epidemiology, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, Fielding School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

DR. ALLAN H. SMITH, MD, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology and Director, Arsenic Health, Effects Research Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, USA

DOTT. MORANDO SOFFRITTI, Direttore Scientifico, Istituto Ramazzini e Segretario Generale, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy

DR. JERRY SPIEGEL, MA, MSc, PhD, Professor, School of Population and Public Health; Director, Global Health Research Program, Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

DR.TIM K. TAKARO, MD, MPH, MS., Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada

DR. ANNIE THÉBAUD-MONY, PhD, Directeur de recherche honoraire à l’Inserm, Université Paris 13; Présidente de l’Association Henri Pézerat (Santé Travail Environnement); Porte parole de Ban Asbestos France

DR. FERNAND TURCOTTE, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Professor Emeritus of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval, Québec, Canada

DR. CATHY VAKIL, MD, CCFP, FCFP, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

DR. RODOLFO ANDRADE DE GOUVEIA VILELA, PhD, Professor, School of Public Health, Environmental Health Department, São Paulo University, Brazil

DR. JUNG-DER WANG, MD, ScD, Chair, Department of Public Health, National Cheng Kung University College of Medicine, Tainan, Taiwan

DR. RICHARD P. WEDEEN, MD, Professor of Medicine and Professor of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, The New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey, USA

DR. HANS-JOACHIM WOITOWITZ, MD, Univ.-Prof. Emeritus; Former Director, Institute and Outpatient Clinic of Occupational and Social Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Giessen, Germany

DR. ROBERT D. WINSTON, MD, FRCPC, FACP, Clinical Assistant Professor, UBC Division of Medical Oncology, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Abbotsford, Canada

DR. ANNALEE YASSI, MD, MSc, FRCPC, Professor and Canada Research Chair, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Notes: Titles and affiliations are given for identification purposes only. Some of the signers have been involved in asbestos litigation.

[1] Judgment On The Problem Of Total Ban Of Asbestos By The Russian Group Of Governmental Experts, Russian Chrysotile Institute, 2002 http://chrysotile.ru/en/site/index/antiasbestovaja_kampanija/mnenie_rossijskih_uchenyh

[2] Testimony, Brazil Supreme Court, August 31, 2012, Evgeny Kovalevsky, Director, Research Institute of Occupational Health of Russian Academy of Medical Sciences

[3] Chrysotile Russian Experience in Occupational Health, Abstract, N. F. Izmerov, State Run Organization Research Institute of Occupational Health of Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, 2006, http://www.chrysotile.com/en/conferences/speakers/Nikolai_Izmerov.aspx

[4] The only solution to the problem:the controlled use of asbestos, Yevgeny Kovalevsky, Russia, Live Journal, July 29, 2010, Russian Chrysotile Institute, http://ru-chrysotile.livejournal.com/6363.html

[5] Comparison of Work History and Chest X-ray Changes among Chrysotile Miners and Millers.Kovalevsky et al, AOH (2002)

[6] Russia crushes a plan by the government of Thailand to ban asbestos, Kathleen Ruff, March 1, 2013, RightOnCanada, http://www.rightoncanada.ca/?p=1926

[7] Chrysotile is on trial in Thailand, Chrysotile Today, Russian Chrysotile Institute, August 2012 http://chrysotile.ru/ru/files/get_file/46/2d232e7779641fe817b38b4e4f36c0f9

[8] Earth Negotiations Bulletin, International Institute for Sustainable Development,Vol. 15, No. 187, http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb15187e.pdf : “An international scientific conference on chrysotile asbestos to examine all scientific data prior to CRC8 (8th meeting of the Chemical Review Committee) was proposed. This was opposed by several parties, who noted that the CRC’s recommendation is final.”