On Campus

McGill researcher cleared in asbestos probe

No evidence of undue industry influence

McGill University says it has found no evidence to suggest that old research was unduly influenced by the asbestos industry.

The Montreal university made the announcement Wednesday after a six-month process that saw its research integrity officer inspect the work of the now-retired J. Corbett McDonald.

McDonald and his research team published a series of studies between 1971 and 1998 funded in part by a branch of the Quebec Mining Association.

A group of 30 physicians and academics had asked McGill to conduct an independent investigation into allegations a researcher skewed study results on behalf of the asbestos industry.

In a statement to announce the release of the report, the university’s dean of medicine said there are no grounds to further investigate allegations against McDonald.

The report by research integrity officer Dr. Abe Fuks says McDonald properly acknowledged financial support from the asbestos industry in his papers and says there’s no evidence to suggest the sponsors influenced the data analyses or conclusions.

“McDonald and his research team demonstrated clearly that all forms of asbestos increase the risk of lung cancer; these findings ‘have been replicated by other groups,’ and ‘their robustness has endured many critical analyses and legal inquiries,'” the statement says, quoting the report.

The asbestos industry, once so dominant in Canada that it led to the creation of entire towns, has been repeatedly linked to diseases like lung cancer.

While some Quebec towns continued relying until recently on exports that sent the product abroad, mostly to poorer countries, those operations appear to have been shuttered.

Proponents of the industry say the variety of asbestos mined in Quebec, chrysotile, is safer than others and that it can be harmless if handled properly.

Opponents questioned whether the countries that still use asbestos would have proper safety standards and they call the exports immoral.

Their arguments appear to have won the day. The newly elected Parti Quebecois government has announced it will cancel a loan guarantee that would have revived a now-dormant mine.

The Harper government, a staunch defender of the industry, conceded the battle was over and it blamed the PQ for risking jobs in the region. Both levels of government are pledging support for economic-diversification programs.

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