Chicago residents who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases know the devastation that comes with their illnesses. Many, in an effort to receive proper medical care, have had to turn to the courts to seek compensation from the companies who created the products that made them sick.
Facing tens of thousands of product liability claims for their illness-inducing joint compound, Georgia-Pacific decided to secretly hire 18 researchers to prove that asbestos exposure does not cause significant health problems. Asbestos, a natural mineral that can be found in many places around the world, was commonly used until the 1970s when clear evidence showed that exposure to the various types of the substance resulted in debilitating heath conditions that were often fatal.
The researchers that Georgia-Pacific hired to secretly test asbestos were told to conduct studies involving the likelihood of asbestos-related occupational illness and publish the results in respectable peer-reviewed journals, likely in order to help build their defense against the increasing number of lawsuits they were facing. Researchers were also told to withhold all communication documents related to the research under the guise of attorney-client privilege by marking all relevant documents with a note that indicated the papers were confidential and being prepared for use during litigation.
Overall, thirteen studies were published in scientific journals, but each had to be reviewed and commented on by the company’s legal department prior to publishing. Some studies indicated that Georgia-Pacific funded them in the form of a grant, while others failed to correctly mention the company’s involvement. None disclosed that they were reviewed by the company’s legal department. A New York appeals court found that the company’s actions constituted an intentional fraudulent act and ordered Georgia-Pacific to give the research documents in question to a judge for inspection. Georgia-Pacific is still considering whether it will appeal the decision.
The truth about asbestos
The World Health Organization states that asbestos exposure causes many different, progressive diseases. Among them is asbestosis, which occurs when asbestos fibers get caught in the lungs, causing inflammation, scarring, and restriction of the lungs. Mesothelioma, a malignant cancer in the cavity between the chest and lungs, has been proven by numerous studies to be caused by exposure to asbestos, with which WHO agrees. It causes other types of cancer as well, including lung, larynx and ovarian cancer. WHO estimates that over 107,000 people die of these diseases around the world each year.