The Diesel files

Posted on June 15, 2012

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Hereby an integral coverage of some worrying developments regarding the public availability of epidemiological data (that was luckily overturned by the US courts). Or, in other words, this is a copy-paste job from other blogs. With proper references to the originals, I hope I will be forgiven…

Last week the IARC Monograph meeting on the carcinogenicity of diesel finished, and the expert committee classified diesel as a being carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). Here’s the press release:

IARC: DIESEL ENGINE EXHAUST CARCINOGENIC

After a week-long meeting of international experts, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), today classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.

 

This is not really unexpected, but it may be quite important (as a sidenote , maybe this is a good reason to replace some of the buses on Oxford Road now (see here)). However, what I wanted to draw upon is not so much the conclusion itself, which has been covered in main stream media as well (1,2,3), but on some of problems caused by attempts to influence the results prior to the start of the Monograph meeting by the mining industry. In short, they did their utmost best to try and prevent the results of an important US NCI study from being released. Or well…as discussed in a Huffington Post from about a year ago entitled “Diesel Dangers: Mining Companies Get First Look at Government Cancer Study” this has been a 15-year battle (link).

Now more recently, Dr Loomis, the editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine posted a very worrying post on the BMJ Group blog (link). Here is the integral copy-paste job of this post I referred to:

Industry attorney warns against publishing papers on diesel exhaust

18 Feb, 12 | by Dana Loomis

OEM recently received a letter from an attorney in the United States referring to an order of a US district court and warning us not to publish papers from a NIOSH/NCI study on the effects of diesel exhaust in a cohort of miners.  The letter’s author, Henry Chajet, is a Washington, DC, lawyer and lobbyist who has represented industry in challenging occupational health and safety regulations, and we have learned that he has sent similar letters to other journals in the UK and the US.

For OEM, the actual impact of the letter and the court’s order is minimal at this stage.  The papers in question have been submitted to other journals and it is questionable whether a US judge’s order would apply to the Journal as an entity based in the UK.  However, the broader implications of the court order and the industry’s tactics are cause for concern.

The judge’s order is a highly unusual instance of prior restraint of scientific publication.  It was issued in a lawsuit filed by the mining industry against the US government agencies that conducted the diesel study, which alleges that the study results are “inaccurate and faulty.”  The order requires the study’s authors to turn over materials related to the research to the industry and a committee of the US Congress and gives those groups 90 days to review them before the papers can be published.  The judge’s order is being appealed, but it’s likely that the papers will be held up for some time with further court filings and motions.   A substantial delay in publication of key results from the study could affect IARC’s planned re-evaluation of the carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust scheduled for June.

Ironically, Mr. Chajet has said that the purpose of challenging the diesel study was “to get the information and open the door and let the participants and the public see what the conclusions are based on the science ” (1), but the industry’s action may have exactly the opposite effect.  The public have a compelling interest in knowing the findings of this important study, which is not served by using the legal system to restrain publication of the key papers and the open discussion and debate that is sure to follow.

References

1. http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/09/26/diesel-dangers-mining-companies-get-first-look-at-government-ca/

 

I cannot overstate how worrying I think this is.

 

Luckily, a subsequent blog post (link) stated that “The US government agencies that sponsored the study had appealed the court’s order, and on 29 February a higher court stayed the original ruling, opening the way for the papers to be published “. And these can now be found here:

Attfield MD, Schlieff PL, Lubin JH et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a cohort mortality study with emphasis on lung cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 2012;104:1-15. DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djs035.

Silverman DT, Sarmanic CM, Lubin JH, et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a nested case-control study of lung cancer and diesel exhaust. J Natl Cancer Inst 2012;104:1-14. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs034.

 

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As a final footnote, the exceptionally weak response from industry lobbyists regarding the new IARC classification from coverage in the Guardian:

Lobbyists for the diesel industry argued the study wasn’t credible because researchers didn’t have exact data on how much exposure miners got in the early years of the study; they simply asked them to remember what their exposure was like. A person’s risk for cancer depends on many variables, from genetic makeup to the amount and length of time of exposure to dangerous substances.

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