When it comes to the selective use of scientific data to come up with unscientific policies, Europe is a world leader. A growing danger for the global economy is that the European Union is trying to get the world to follow its lead on important regulatory matters. The latest case concerns asbestos. At a five-day conference beginning November 9th at Lyon, the U.N.’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) will review a study of various synthetic chrysotile substitutes to determine whether they are safer than the real thing. In making such a comparison, one might expect the new information to be weighed alongside the most up-to-date data available on chrysotile itself. IARC officials said that the World Health Organization’s “latest” study of chrysotile (nearly a decade old) should suffice. Industry advocates say they have new scientific evidence that chrysotile doesn’t remain in the lungs to cause cancerous mesothelioma, as amphibole does. However, they have been given only 15 minutes to make their case. It’s unclear why Europe is so interested in seeing chrysotile wiped out beyond its own borders – in other words, in forcing its regulatory standard on the rest of the world. We have heard a presentation about the new study of chrysotile, and while we’re not scientists it certainly seems solid enough to merit a throughout examination before an entire industry is effectively KO’ed. At the very least, chrysotile industry’s new data should be used to decide whether a new, neutral evaluation ought to be conclude. Or do European and international bureaucrats only use their cherished “precautionary principle” to guard against hearing information that might change their predetermined outcome?
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal Online, November 7, 2005. WSJ.com The World’s Would-Be Regulator.