Complaint made to IARC regarding undisclosed conflict of interest in IARC paper on asbestos

Tue, Jan 14, 2014


Dr Christopher Wild
Director, International Agency for Research on Cancer
World Health Organization

January 6, 2014

Dear Dr. Wild,

Complaint regarding violation of IARC’s Declaration of Interests requirements

We are writing to express our concern regarding the paper, Estimating the asbestos related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality, published in the British Journal of Cancer (Br J Cancer 106: 575–584).

The Conflict of Interest statement, published in the paper, states that the authors declare “no conflict of interest”. The corresponding author for the paper was Paolo Boffetta. Dr. Boffetta worked for IARC for a number of years, but in 2009 left IARC to become co-founder and Vice President of a private consulting company, the International Prevention Research Institute. The consulting company had a turnover of 2 million euros in 2011.

The IARC paper fails to disclose that in 2011, at the same time that Dr. Boffetta was co-writing and acting as corresponding author for IARC’s paper on asbestos, he was being paid by an Italian company to help it defeat charges of criminal negligence, causing the deaths of a dozen workers, who died from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos used at the company’s Montefibre factory in Italy. Dr. Boffetta argued in court, on behalf of Montefibre, that continued exposure to asbestos does not cause harm to health.

We believe that the failure to disclose Dr. Boffetta’s financial involvement with the Montefibre company on the issue of health risks of asbestos, while co-writing the IARC paper on asbestos, violates IARC’s Declaration of Interests requirements.

IARC’s Declaration of Interests Form states:

 “To ensure the highest integrity and public confidence in its activities, IARC/WHO requires that experts serving in an advisory role disclose any circumstances that could give rise to a potential conflict of interest related to the subject of the activity in which they will be involved. All experts serving in an advisory role must disclose any circumstances that could represent a potential conflict of interest (i.e. any interest that may affect, or may reasonably be perceived to affect, the expert’s objectivity and independence). You must disclose on this Declaration of Interest (DOI) form any financial, professional or other interest relevant to the subject of the work.

Specifically, scientists are asked to disclose whether, within the past 4 years, they have received remuneration from a commercial entity or other organization with an interest related to the subject of the meeting or work.”

Dr. Boffetta was playing a more important role than an advisor to IARC. He was co-writing IARC’s paper.

We request that IARC publish a correction in the BJC to disclose, in the Conflict of Interest statement of the paper, Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality (BJC 2012), and in the ensuing Reply: Comment on ‘Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality’ (BJC 2013), that Dr. Boffetta had a financial relationship relating to asbestos with the company, Montefibre.

We look forward to receiving your response to our request.


Dr. Pierre L. Auger, MD, Msc, FRCPC, CSPQ médecine du travail, professeur de clinique, Université Laval, Québec, Canada

Dr. Fiorella Belpoggi, Director, Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, Ramazzini Institute, Bologna, Italy

Dr. Yv Bonnier-Viger, MD, MSc, MM, CMSQ, FRCPC, Medical Specialist in Public Health and Preventive Medicine; Director, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Laval University, Québec; Président de l’Association des
médecins spécialistes en santé communautaire du Québec, Canada

Dr. Erica Frank, MD, MPH, Founder, President, and Research Director,; Former Co Editor in Chief, Preventive Medicine; Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of British Columbia, Canada

Dr. Pierre Gosselin, MD, MPH, Director, Head, WHO-PAHO Collaborating Center on Environmental and Occupational Health Impact Assessment and Surveillance, INSPQCHUQ-DSP, Québec, Canada

Dr. John R. Keyserlingk, MD, MSc, FRCS(C), FACS, Director, Medicine & Surgical Oncology, Ville Marie Oncology Center, Montréal, Québec, Canada

Prof. Dr. med. Dennis Nowak, Institut und Poliklinik für Arbeits-, Sozial- und Umweltmedizin, WHO Collaborating Centre for Occupational Health, Klinikum der Universität München, Germany

Kathleen Ruff, author, Exporting Harm: How Canada Markets Asbestos to the Developing World; recipient, 2011 National Public Health Hero Award, Canadian Public Health Association; recipient, Collegium Ramazzini Special Award, 2013; co-coordinator,
Rotterdam Convention Alliance; senior human rights adviser, Rideau Institute, Canada

Dr. Annie Thébaud-Mony, PhD, Directeur de recherche honoraire à l’Inserm, Université Paris 13; Présidente de l’Association Henri Pézerat (Santé Travail Environnement); Porte parole de Ban Asbestos France

Dr. Fernand Turcotte, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Professor Emeritus of PreventiveMedicine and Public Health, Faculté de médecine, Université Laval, Québec, Canada

Note: Titles and affiliations are given for identification purposes only.

Conflict of Interest:

Dr. Pierre Auger has testified in court for workers exposed to asbestos.

Dr. Yv Bonnier-Viger has testified on the hazards of asbestos in a case against an employer before the Quebec Occupational Health & Safety Commission (CSST). He is supporting a case for the estate of a worker before the Quebec Appeal Commission for Occupational Injuries.

Prof. Dr. med. Dennis Nowak has testified for the statutory German social insurance system and for courts in asbestos issues.

The other signers have no conflict of interest to declare.

Copy to:
IARC Ethics Committee
Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization


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