A group of anti-asbestos activists and scientists are criticizing McGill University's plans for an internal review of a major asbestos research study that has been called into question.
In a letter dated Friday to Dr. David Eidelman, the school's dean of medicine, 20 activists and scientists called on McGill to carry out a "thorough, independent and transparent investigation" of the original study, which they claim is " flawed, lacks transparency and contains manipulated data."
On Thursday, McGill said it would review the findings of the study, which was led by J. Corbett McDonald, after a CBC documentary aired about the university's past ties to the asbestos industry.
Eidelman has said the allegations in the CBC report must be taken seriously, although he has also defended McDonald's work, saying that holding scientific views that are different from those of the majority does not constitute research misconduct.
However, the critics are panning the university's planned review.
In their letter to Eidelman, the activists and scientists said that Prof. Rebecca Fuhrer, the school's chair of the department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health, and the person chosen to do the internal review, is in a conflict of interest because McDonald is still a professor emeritus of the department of epidemiology.
"You also state that you expect Prof. Fuhrer’s review to be completed next week. Given the serious nature of the concerns raised, this does not indicate a credible review," the group said in their letter.
The major research study led by McDonald, which followed the health of 11,000 miners and mill workers in Quebec between 1966 and the late 1990s, is used by the Chrysotile Institute — a lobby arm funded by, overseen and closely associated with both the former Liberal and Conservative governments — to promote the use of asbestos overseas.
The McGill researchers would suggest in a 1997 study that cases of mesothelioma occurred in "most, if not all," miners who had a greater exposure to tremolite, a more dangerous contaminant than chrysotile, and that the mines close to the centre of the town of Thetford, Que., were the ones most contaminated with tremolite.
McDonald suggested that chrysotile was "essentially innocuous" at certain levels and advocated for its export to the Third World.
CBC has obtained documents that show payments from the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association to McDonald and other researchers at the McGill school of occupational health totaling almost a million dollars from 1966 to 1972.
Eidelman has said that McDonald's work demonstrated that asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, is a carcinogen associated with both lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung.