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Do industrial interests take priority over
human health?

Specific interests have a considerable influence over health decisions. Economic interests can delay public health decisions, as seen in the past with asbestos, lead, silica, the REACH chemical safety regulations and benzene.

Benzene has been used in numerous industries since the second half of the 19th century. Various blood disorders associated with exposure to benzene were already being documented at the end of the 19th century but benzene production still increased, especially during the World War I. In the 1970s, a growing number of cases confirmed benzene’s toxicity, and a study highlighted the risks from relatively low exposure. But a controversy fuelled by the petroleum industry, which systematically challenged all the evidence, delayed the lowering of the occupational exposure limit by ten years, a delay which caused several hundred deaths.

When threatened by decisions that might affect profitability, companies use delaying tactics. They take advantage of scientific controversies, using or refuting animal studies to suit their purpose, suppressing negative results and putting pressure on researchers etc. Epidemiological studies funded directly or indirectly by industry are often rigged to produce results in its favour.

Only independent research allows the timely adoption of adequate prevention.

©Prescrire September 2009

Source: "Des stratégies d'entreprises retardent la prévention au travail : le cas du benzène" Rev Prescrire 2009 ; 29 (310) : 630-634.

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