Scientists paid $6 million for secret asbestos research

For several decades now, the public has been educated on the risks associated with asbestos and yet there are likely still dozens of old buildings within Madison County that contain the substance. Often, people do not realize that they have been exposed to it until they are diagnosed with a cancer called mesothelioma.

Why asbestos is so dangerous

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, asbestos is a "group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to heat and corrosion". These minerals are often used in several products because of their ability to make things last longer. However, the minerals are also microscopic and when they are disturbed, they break apart, entering the air. The disturbance can come in the form of a building demolition, construction repair or in a renovation of an older home.

When someone inhales these minerals, the minerals find their way to the stomach or lungs, causing a buildup of tissue that can develop into severe breathing problems, mesothelioma or other diseases and cancers. OSHA states that while there are federal guidelines which establish how to properly remove asbestos-filled materials from buildings and limits a person's exposure to it, no level of asbestos exposure is truly safe.

Secret research conducted by Georgia-Pacific Corp.

It was recently revealed by The Center for Public Integrity, that Georgia-Pacific Corp. spent $6 million on secret research for a product it previously made that contained asbestos. The product, called Ready-Mix, was used in the 1970s and, as a result, thousands of people filed liability lawsuits in 2005 against the company for the damages they suffered from being exposed to the product.

The purpose of the research was to find evidence that would defend the company from litigation. The scientists were instructed that the research should be completely confidential and the company did not inform the plaintiffs that the research was being conducted, while publishing the studies' findings in scientific publications. The research methods included:

  • Recreating the Ready-Mix compound - wet and dry.
  • Applying the compound to wallboard.
  • The wallboard was sanded to obtain asbestos minerals.
  • Exposing the compound to rats in the form of dust six hours a day for five days.
  • The rats were then killed and their lungs examined.

In addition, the methods used to study the asbestos compound were based on older studies of the minerals and employed modern methods to measure the fiber count. The scientists claimed that their new studies proved that construction workers exposure was not as severe as originally thought but there are questions over the reliability of the research conducted.

Fraudulent behavior?

Earlier this year, an appeals court in New York agreed unanimously that the company may have engaged in a fraudulent action to keep important information out of the hands of the plaintiffs who are suing the company for asbestos exposure. The company was found to have paid the scientists involved in the study, deny their involvement on a few of the 12 scientific papers that were punished and did not reveal that their attorney, over their asbestos litigation counsel, had personally reviewed every paper before it was published.

The court's ruling could open the door for plaintiffs in asbestos litigation to obtain documents that companies may be trying to hide behind the guise of attorney-client privilege when it comes to scientific research. When a person is the victim of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, he or she should discuss the case with an experienced attorney.