For most people, its mere utterance conjures up images of dust-laden building, black and red warnings signs, abatement workers in HAZMAT suits, and industry workers on their deathbeds gasping for air. These images are sadly accurate and grounded in America’s tragic experience with asbestos.
Beginning in the mid-1800’s, asbestos was commercially utilized to support American Industry. The mineral was used in everything from ceiling tiles and insulation to baby diapers and cement. Asbestos absorbs sound, is heat resistant and resist electrical and chemical damage. The word “asbestos” in Greek means inextinguishable. The widespread use of asbestos continued into the late 1970’s, when government regulations and public service announcements began to illuminate what the asbestos industry had known for decades: that asbestos is a highly dangerous fiber that when inhaled, causes permanent injury and death.
As international attention grew and regulations increased, public concern also swelled. Television news reports frantically documented the harmful effects of asbestos. Parents became terrified of sending their children to asbestos-laden schools. Office buildings, retails stores and school underwent extensive renovations to eliminate asbestos contamination. Asbestos use and importation evaporated. Today, the use of asbestos in perhaps more frightening and inherently flawed than the researchers’ methodologies is their insistence that a plaintiff can only prove causation using epidemiological evidence.
America is virtually nonexistent and every organization worth referencing classifies asbestos as a deadly carcinogen. Across the pond, the European Union has banned all use of asbestos products. While the United States has not banned all uses, asbestos supporters from our neighbor to the north have aspirations to export again.
But why is it that today, in the year 2011, with so much information about lethal asbestos exposure in the public domain, trial lawyers representing asbestos victims find themselves, perhaps more than ever, on the defensive about the inherent dangers of asbestos is safe to prove to juries what the public has A growing mountain of junk science.
These days, it seems a popular marketing ploy for corporations to label themselves “industry leaders,” with products on the “cutting edge.” The terms are used interchangeably with invention, innovation, and development. Many of the corporations that once from asbestos frequently marketed and still profited from asbestos frequently marketed and still market-themselves and their products as the leaders. Now that production of asbestos-containing products has ceased and litigation has continued for nearly four decades, asbestos corporations find themselves as the industry leaders in another domain. They are the grandfathers of complex litigation involving corporations with seemingly unlimited financial resources to buy science. Asbestos litigation has proven increasingly fertile ground for the development and advancement of result seeking science to support defense litigation.
No one can calculate the amount of money that the asbestos industry has paid to conjure up purported science to support its defense experts’ testimony. However, the clues indicate that the figures are substantial and the effort has been widespread. The automotive industry provides a good example. In the seven year period from 2000 to 2007 alone, the “Big Three” automotive manufacturers paid more than $30 million to consultants for the creation of scientific papers related to asbestos brake manufacturers.
A review of the independent literature reveals precisely why the automotive parts manufacturers felt the need to create their own studies. Since the 1970s, numerous independent studies have document the link between mechanics working with asbestos friction products, exposure to asbestos, and the development of mesothelioma. These studies have documented hundreds of published cases of automotive friction workers diagnosed with mesothelioma. Likewise, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have published literature warning of the risks of mesothelioma from automotive brake and clutch work. Even the manufacturers’ Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for asbestos brake and clutch products warn of asbestos exposure and potential development of mesothelioma.
Not surprisingly, the studies conducted by the automotive industry have reached opposing results. The most popular opinion held by those paid by litigation defendants is that plaintiffs cannot show epidemiological evidence to support the link between automotive work and a person’s development of mesothelioma. To them, an absence of evidence is evidence of absence. How convenient that such a opinion provides an automotive parts manufacture complete immunity?
The researchers’ attempts to manipulate data to support their claims are well documented. The specific techniques of manipulation vary from study to study , but some of the highlights include: excluding or ignoring previous studies and data that produce unfavorable results; misrepresenting data and results from previous studies; reanalyzing and grouping data from studies focused on different populations; utilizing improper controls or different investigative methods for control groups; deriving results from inadequate samples sizes; and, of coarse, misusing confidence intervals.
Perhaps more frightening and inherently flawed than the researchers’ methodologies is their insistence that a plaintiff can only prove causation using epidemiological evidence. They reject any notion that causation can be proven by anything other than a direct study linking the specific type of asbestos, the specific nature of the exposure, and the specific disease. While that may initially sound reasonable, it is tantamount to suggestion that a smoker reasonable, it is tantamount to suggesting that smoker cant prove that cigarettes caused his/her lung cancer unless there is an epidemiological study linking the specific brand of cigarettes to the specific subtype of lung cancer experienced by the smoker.
Epidemiological studies to support a conclusion that asbestos exposure from a specific product can cause mesothelioma do not exist, cannot exist, and likely never will exist. An epidemiological cannot create a historic population of individuals exposed to one type of asbestos, or one type of product. For example, even if one could find a few hundred automotive workers, exposed to asbestos solely from their automotive work, who each then developed mesothelioma, there would not be enough people in the population to have a study of significance. The data points do not exist and cannot be created unless people started volunteering for such a study.
The ridiculousness of creationist asbestos studies are best exemplified by the results that some of their data has caused researchers to conclude. One study essentially suggests that brake work generally protects against mesothelioma. Another suggest that exposure to asbestos brakes actually reduces the risk of mesothelioma. These asinine conclusions often go without comment by the truly independent researchers, likely because they crystallize the rampant flaws in the studies.
Purchasing science to support a litigation defense is not unique to the asbestos litigation, or automotive defendants in asbestos litigation. But few ongoing torts have borne out a defense as purely insane as: asbestos is not asbestos.
Defendant corporations have funded extensive research, under guise of membership in “independent” organizations, to demonstrate that certain types of asbestos fibers are not harmful and do not cause mesothelioma. Asbestos is a blanket term for several different typed of mineral fibers has made the debate regarding its danger a hot-button issue.
The industry-funded research maintains that Chrysotile asbestos is safe for commercial use or at the very least, that the evidence of toxicity is inconclusive. In simpler terms: Not all asbestos is created equal. There is evidence that curly chrysotile fibers, unlike amphibole fibers such as amosite, can e broken down by the body and cleared from the lungs, but most level head research is perverted by the industry and repackaged for defense consumption.
Highly-paid defense experts have opined that pure chrysotile asbestos is safe for consumption. They claim because chrysotile fibers are short, not as biokpersistent as the needle-like amphibole fibers, and the available epidemiological studies show chrysotile must be contaminated by amphibole fibers to cause disease. And there lies the rub: asbestos must be contaminated by asbestos to cause a cancer only caused by asbestos.
To independent scientist and organizations, there isn’t anything to debate. Numerous agencies have recognized chrysotile as a proven carcinogen and do not treat it any differently than amphibole fiber types. Such agencies include the International Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the center for Disease Control, the National Institute for Safety and Health, and the World Health Organization. Likewise, independent studies have time and time again demonstrated the harms of chrysotile asbestos.