Environmental Consequences: Asbestos and Human Health

Today I am delighted to publish a guest post on asbestos and human health, and their links to the environment. The post is by James O’Shea, content editor of http://www.maacenter.org; James K. Bashkin (Site Publisher and Editor; the guest post is the opinion of its author).

January 22, 2009: For more discussion of this topic, please see the comments here and the version of this article, with discussion, that was re-published by me on Gather.com: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977474977

January 1, 2009: Today I am somewhat less delighted to point out the comment made by Dennis of samadhisoft.com, who provided the link http://samadhisoft.com/2008/09/18/mesothelioma-asbestos-awareness-center/. This blog, written by Dennis, documents some strange behaviors associated with the sponsors of the center that offered this guest report. While I was fully aware that they were sponsored by a law firm, I was not aware of some apparently predatory practices that Dennis has uncovered. I have removed the live links in this article except the one that I supplied to the literature citation, but you can still get to the site if you want to by typing the url of the center, http://www.maacenter.org, into your browser. Meanwhile, I have added Samadhisoft.com to my blogroll. Thanks, Dennis!

The processing of fossil fuels has a long trail of consequences, with some being more obvious than others. There are essentially two tiers of negative ramifications to backwards energy policies. The first of these are the direct environmental consequences of the burning of fossil, which has been well documented in recent years with the recent interest in the effects of global warming. However, the second tier are the human health effects associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

(Revised Editor’s note: this paragraph has been removed.  Some comments refer to the missing text).

Then there are the more indirect costs, and specifically those which are associated with the industry itself. Working conditions in the fossil fuel industry are among the most hazardous of any occupation. One of the hazards workers will encounter is asbestos, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a known carcinogen. And even though asbestos was banned by the CPSC in the late 1970’s, older asbestos fixtures still exist within nearly all facets of the fossil fuel infrastructure. These older and sometimes damaged fixtures pose and even greater hazard to human health.

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they lodge themselves in the lining of lungs. This lays the groundwork for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Perhaps it should come as no coincidence then that rates of pleural cancer (mesothelioma) in oil refinery workers are among the highest of any occupation.

What we begin to see then, is that there are effects of ozone depletion and fossil fuel use and processing, that are detrimental not only to the planet, but also to human health. When the world opens its eyes to the crisis we’re supporting, we’ll not only have sustained the future for our children, but also saved lives.


Environmental Protection Agency

Occupational Medicine 2007 (an Oxford Journal), Mortality of UK Oil Refinery Workers and Petroleum Distribution Workers 1951-2003, by Tom Sorahan, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham.

  1. dragonmage06

    Just for further knowledge, which part of the burning of fossil fuels effects ozone depletion? I thought it was CFLs that did that, from things like aerosols and air conditioning. Are fossil fuels also a source?

  2. None that I am aware of. Burning fossil fuels by cars creates ozone at the surface of the earth, having no effect on ozone levels far above the earth’s surface, but causing respiratory ailments in many people. There are some very weak links between global warming and ozone depletion, according to Wikipedia, for example: warm temperatures in the arctic decrease the ozone hole!. You can see more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozone_depletion, but none of this is related to fossil fuels.

    The guest post is the opinion of the guest author.

  3. dragonmage06

    Ok. I didn’t know of a connection, so I just wanted to check. Otherwise, the article’s very interesting.

  4. dragonmahe06, thanks for the feedback! I also left you a note on your blog, and I contacted the author about editing his article to remove the problematic paragraph. Best wishes.

  5. Not everything with these asbestos folks may be as it seems. Check this out and make your own judgements:


  6. Dennis, thanks for the note. I did check into the site and was aware of the fact, which they do not hide on their website, that the site is supported by lawyers who pursue damages in civil lawsuits that are alleged to be mesothelioma related. However, the post was based on a citation to a published and independent research article that was fairly recent. I read the article myself, found the proper link to it myself and inserted that link into the post on my blog because I felt it was a worthwhile source. I did not dig as far as was done in the link you provided, however- in that regard, I may have made a mistake.

    There is an apparent conflict of interest with the “society” and the law firm, and your helpful link points to evidence of shady dealings by the law firm behind this particular “public information effort,” so perhaps there is a real conflict of interest, but that doesn’t negate the truth, which I felt is portrayed in the guest post in a helpful way, even if it had a chance to be commercially useful to the ultimate sponsors.

    Conflicts of interest do not disqualify people from being valuable, or even essential, contributors to any issue. It is generally only undisclosed conflicts of interest that lend a sense of possible impropriety to the situation. Of course, there are cases of fraud related to conflicts of interest, also, but I don’t believe that to be relevant here.

    I certainly don’t support frivolous lawsuits, but I do support genuine efforts to sue on behalf of people injured by environmental practices, and there are a lot of such people around the world.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate your providing the information, which will better inform my readers of other sides to the story. I must admit that the information available at the link you provided about what seem to be cyberattacks on the blog that published the article exposing the darker side of this particular story are quite disturbing- they do make me consider removing the post altogether.

    If you would like to make any additional and more specific points, please feel free to respond. The fact remains that I believe the issue has inherent value for public awareness and education, and the cited study is a good reason why. I have not received any compensation for publishing this guest post.

    Thanks very much for your comment and the link. Jim

  7. Jim, I think you have taken the right tack. We don’t ‘know’ that the cyber attacks on my site have any relationship to the original people who tried to get me to post the article on asbestos.

    Absent that link, we have a situation exactly as you say – good information that useful to people placed into the public domain for reasons that may be questionable.

    But that idea brings up deeper questions. I’ve always thought that the American idea that everyone has an inalienable right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ should be joined by a fourth right – the right to unadulterated information.

    People are forever manipulating and spinning information for their own purposes. In essence, such manipulations are lies and lies, in turn, can lead the one lied to to make errors in judgment.

    For example, if Exxon Mobil convinces the public that Global Climate Change isn’t real – it will prolong their profits but, in the end, we will all suffer.

    There’s every good reason to spread accurate unbiased information about asbestos and the harm it can do. But, when folks pretend to be idealistic and misuse the idealism of others , like you and myself, to spread such information for their own gain – I become doubtful about its accuracy and its bias. And I want to point at it and speak the truth.

  8. ami

    As noted, that website isn’t hiding anything – everything you’d want to know is accessible on their main page. I’m seeing comments bashing their site (and another similar site which, from what I can gather, has no affiliation) from Dennis and others all over the place, and I think it’s gotten a little ridiculous. I mean, if it were illegal, they wouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing, and if they are accredited by a reputable health certification site, then their information must also be credible…so I guess I’m a bit surprised that this is still something people are focused on. Also, I see on Dennis’ blog that he posted an article about nanotechnology and how it may be dangerous…interestingly enough, some call carbon nanotubes “the new asbestos.” I found that parallel to be quite ironic Dennis!

    • ami, I didn’t remove the post or the site address. I think this is important information. I believe that the information is credible. I’m not censoring your comments any more than i did Dennis’. I can’t criticize Dennis for skepticism based on conflict of interest, but, as I have said, and Dennis also refers to, conflict isn’t inherently bad. It is almost impossible to find experts on a subject who don’t have some conflict. Disclosure of conflict of interest is the key thing. The site does disclose the conflict, as I mentioned. The post on my site did not however, and that made in a little uncomfortable in retrospect. Now that information is available, as is the post, and people can make their own decisions. Staying away from asbestos is a good decision, and it is unquestionably true that asbestos causes fatal illness. If some company somewhere made people sick by knowingly exposing them to unsafe asbestos, they should be sued, and we can be sure that such companies are out there, carrying out business as usual in many cases.

      I don’t see why you’d find the concerns about nanotubes ironic, however. They are real, and have been expressed by a number of scientific groups that are concerned with the environmental health and safety aspects of nanoscience. That doesn’t mean I think nanoscience is bad. I even do some! It just means we need to treat many new materials as unsafe until we know more. There are plenty of ways to work on unsafe materials, and scientists are trained to do this. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Theodore

    Did you know you link to maacenter.org under the Health section of the blog? I think that your comments about the “center” don’t really imply an endorsement of their policies which is why the link on the side has me confused.

    If you do want to link about mesothelioma, here are some good suggestions:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesothelioma (very comprehensive, even for wikipedia standards)

    http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/mesothelioma (National Cancer Institute)

    • Theodore:

      Thanks for the links, especially the link to cancer.gov, which is an excellent site that I visit regularly for many reasons unrelated to mesothelioma. I recommend this to all readers. I’ll look at the Wikipedia link, too.

      The links to the EPA and the journal Occupational Health were provided by me, not the guest author, but this is a subject where more information is certainly better than less…

      As for being confusing, sorry. It is hard to be perfectly consistent- I don’t really remember why the link is in my blogroll.

      I had some problems with this article, clearly, but was happy to provide information on this topic, nonetheless (hence the added links that accompanied the guest post). In addition, I don’t think I would have posted on this topic without the prompt from the guest author, so that was a plus (the negatives have already been discussed at length here and elsewhere).

      I did receive a revised version of the text, but I wasn’t comfortable with the changes, which were really off-topic and not very accurate, scientifically, so I ended up editing things heavily in a few places, while leaving the basics in place.

      I appreciate your comment and the fact that you took the trouble to provide the additional sources. Best wishes, Jim

  10. nice post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely be subscribing to your posts. Keep up the good work

  11. Hey, you have a great blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you! Thank you for your info.And this is **mesothelioma** site/blog. It pretty much covers mesothelioma related stuff.

  12. Hello, i found your site at yahoo and you are providing interesting stuff. I like it,

  13. This stuff is unbelievable. We’ve been fighting asbestos and meso for over 30 years, and we’re still finding cases.

  14. I really enjoyed reading your blog post here, this article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for mesothelioma resource subject last week. Keep it up. Thanks.

  15. This page is fantastic and also i seriously appreciate it. Good job!

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