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Asbestos on the carcinogenic substances list
Scientists re-establish facts

On December 1st, 2006 the journal “Indoor and Built Environment” accepted for publication the following scientific text which was published on February 16, 2007. Signed by seven (7) scientists, this is one of the rare documents criticizing the manner in which the International Agency on Research for Cancer (IARC) proceeds with the evaluation of risk in regards to asbestos. This merits attentive reading.

Misconceptions and Misuse of International Agency for Research on Cancer “Classification of Carcinogenic Substances”: The Case of Asbestos

David Bernsteinaa
Allen Gibbsbb
Fred Pooleycc 
Arthur Langerdd
Ken Donaldsonee 
John Hoskinsff
Jacques Dunnigangg

 Geneva, Switzerland
 Departement Histopathology, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff, UK
 Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
 Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, NY USA
 The Medical School, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
 Haslemere, UK
 University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Oc, Canada


In their work on human cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer have run a programme of “monographs” that evaluate carcinogenic risk of chemicals to man. The data collected provide considerable information on the risk from substances identified as carcinogens. However, this is largely unused in the IARC classification scheme in spite of the use of the term “risk” in the title and text of the monographs. Consequently some governments and pressure groups use hazard identification to advance the cause of banning agents without conducting a risk assessment. Confusion and indiscriminate use of “hazard” and “risk” mean that the hazard data are commonly misrepresented as risk data. A common political response is to push regulatory action to extremes, citing the Precautionary Principle. Unfortunately, eliminating substances on the grounds of inherent hazard can deny major benefits to societies and undermine the sustainable developments. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the case of the minerals known collectively as asbestos. Evidence available clearly differentiates the hazards of chrysotile and amphibole asbestos, yet the current IARC classification does not make this distinction. This is in spite of the fact that amphibole asbestos produces orders of magnitude more diseases than chrysotile when used in the same way. The overwhelming weight of evidence available indicates that chrysotile can be used safely with low risk. Cement products such as water pipes and boards for housing provide versatile products made at affordable cost of the developing countries which if not available would cost rather than save lives.

Source : Indoor Built Environment, Opinion Paper, 2007; 16; 94-298, Accepted for publication : December 1, 2006
2007 Sage Publications DOI : 10.1177/1420326x06076258.
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