Inconvenient truths

Top WHO adviser says membership of Ban Lobby group is not corrupt

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Any doubt about the end of supposed independence of the World Health Organisation was dispelled at the latest UN workshop on chrysotile.

Rather than the respected forum for careful consideration and scientific rigour of the past, the organisation’s apparatchiks have, sadly, succeeded in turning it into an international lobbying group who are now a law unto themselves.

Descending on Geneva at the end of March, the WHO, launched its latest, barely disguised, attempt to brow beat countries that use chrysotile into submission.

Launching an outright dismissal of the approach ordered by their political masters on the World Health Assembly (WHA) – to distinguish between chrysotile and other more dangerous forms of asbestos – the WHO introduced new – taxpayer funded -ways to call for a worldwide ban on the substance.

WHA only “provides guidelines”

Carolyn Vickers, the head of chemical safety at WHO, dismissed the international government ministers who make up the WHA, saying it merely “provides guidelines”.

After talking of the WHO’s “fear” of increasing numbers of asbestos deaths in the future, Ms Vickers recommending a “total ban”, she handed over to a succession of WHO talking heads and their acolytes took to ignore their democratically elected bosses.

Chief among them was Japanese anti-asbestos campaigner Ken Takahashi, who claims to be an “independent adviser” to the WHO.

He once again rolled out his unscientific claims of 107,000 global deaths a year caused by exposure to chrysotile.

Takahashi, as usual, claimed his analysis was based on the “best science and data available”.

Patchy data

Although the International Labour Organization admitted that this data was patchy at best.

Despite his reliance on little more than on a finger in the air extrapolation, “the majority of countries don’t have good enough data”, a Ukrainian representative said, Takahashi continued to fight on like his livelihood depended on it — which, as a paid consultant, it probably does.

He said several groups had tried to estimate the number of deaths and come up with similar figures.

But weren’t those groups, he was asked, also those campaigning for a ban?

He admitted, yes, he was working with activist groups, but, he insisted, experts in the field did the risk assessment, hazard identification and clinical diagnosis – although he didn’t say who. Unbiased researchers like Ken Takahasi no doubt?

“Banning” toolkit

In the meantime, the professor revealed, he’d been working on the grandly entitled “Toolkit for the Elimination of Asbestos and Related Diseases”.

The project was paid for by the UN’s Rotterdam Convention, set up to protect human health from the trade in harmful goods. How much they – and therefore international taxpayers – paid him for it, he didn’t say.

It was, he said, aimed at a target audience in developing countries in Asia and highlighted ways to prevent exposure. It was, he admitted, basically a compilation of scientific papers.

He said his toolkit concluded that the best way to prevent asbestos exposure was to stop using asbestos.

A Thai representative asked, “so it is a toolkit on banning?” and then questioned whether it might not have been better to provide tools to analyse the numbers Takahashi claimed were dying from exposure.

The Thai government, he said, had asked its health minister to search for cases of mesothelioma, the asbestos-linked lung disease, and found only 12 cases in the whole of Thailand and only one connected to an asbestos factory.

“You can’t look at isolated reports”, Takahashi insisted.

Takahashi: I’m not corrupt

Takahashi’s independence was repeatedly called into question. Wasn’t he, it was claimed, a member of G-BAN, an international organisation campaigning for a ban on all asbestos.
G-BAN was set up by Linda Reinstein, who runs the US-based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), and receives thousands of dollars in funding from American lawyers bringing multi-million dollar damages claims against asbestos manufacturers.

Takahashi demanded the right to defend himself. He said G-BAN was an NGO established by (Reinstein) an American widow of an asbestos victim. He agreed he was an original member of the group and had been invited to join but insisted he received no money from them.

He dismissed claims of a conflict of interest or corruption. He said he received no payment, other than as a researcher, and then this money came from government sources.

He acknowledged he had attended one of G-BAN’s international conferences and submitted a couple of articles to its website, but added, that he was a member of other NGOs and had every right to do so.

The Technical Workshop on Chrysotile Asbestos was being organised by the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat for countries, which produce, export and consume chrysotile asbestos.

Despite the brow beating approach of the WHO anti-asbestos campaigners appeared upset that their opponents got to discuss the issue without them.

Campaigner Laurie Kazan-Allen, whose wealthy US lawyer brother has made millions suing asbestos manufacturers, dismissed the meeting as “yet another talking shop” and attacked the European Union for funding it.