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Don't swallow the asbestos industry line

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Letters

There seems to be a major effort by the asbestos industry to cloud the issue and create confusion about the dangers of chrysotile (white) asbestos fibres to health.

It is almost a rerun of the tobacco industry's claim that smoking does not cause lung cancer or heart disease. There is a reason why the asbestos industry is making such a fuss.

White asbestos is due to be banned throughout the EU by 1 January 2005. Many member states, including the UK, have introduced a ban before that date.

Even the World Trade Organisation said: 'Chrysotile is a carcinogen - the concept of 'controlled use' is unrealistic and safer substitutes exist.'

John Biddle, the technical consultant for the Asbestos Cement Product Producers Association, says: 'People who claim that chrysotile products are a danger to health fall into two groups: those who have not read or understood the scientific information, and those who hope to make a profit from it.'

Biddle also says that antiasbestos groups, 'steadfastly refuse to submit any credible science or debate the issue in public'. This seems to be a little economical with the truth.

In a written parliamentary answer (Hansard 10.1.02 col 987W), Dr Whitehead for the government replied to Tim Loughton MP citing evidence in papers by Peto & Doll 1985 on the effects on health of exposure to asbestos, the Institute of Environmental Health's 1997 report on fibrous materials in the environment, and the 2000 Hodgson & Darnton paper on the qualitative risks of mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to asbestos exposure. All of these papers are published and available.

The French Medical Research Council (ISERM) concluded that, 'all asbestos fibres are carcinogenic - the increase in mortality from lung cancer arising from exposure to asbestos fibres is as high in populations exposed to chrysotile as in those which have combined exposure or exposure to amphiboles alone'.

Biddle asks: 'Where is the evidence of harm?' All I can say to that is that he has not been looking very far. Peto & Doll are hardly an unknown pair of doctors.

They made the first links between smoking and lung cancer.

I suppose we should not be too surprised when Christopher Booker, a Sunday Telegraph journalist, is taken in by the asbestos industry, but I really become concerned when Astragal (AJ 23.5.02) and Austin Williams, the AJ's technical editor (AJ 11.7.02), fall for the same bait. I would expect them to ask: 'Exactly how independent is the ACPPA?'

Why didn't the AJ point out that all offices, schools, hospitals, factories etc are required to draw up a record of where asbestos is in their premises? The TUC is compiling the first national online register, www. asbestos register. com, of asbestos in buildings. This is to protect people, and is far better than some spurious promise that there is nothing to worry about from ACPPA.

Sam Webb RIBA, Canterbury

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