From the Journal of All-Too-Reproducible Results...
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 93 22:29:29 PST
Subject: From the Journal of All-Too-Reproducible Results...
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* FIBERGLASS, CANCER & THE EPA
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Peter Montague)
RACHEL'S HAZARDOUS WASTE NEWS #367
---December 9, 1993---
News and resources for environmental justice.
Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403
Fax (410) 263-8944; Internet: email@example.com
DONNA SHALALA, SECRETARY OF HHS,
BENDS THE RULES FOR THE FIBER GLASS INDUSTRY
The Clinton administration, under intense pressure from industry,
has set aside plans to list as a cancer-causing substance the
fiber glass insulation used in 90 percent of U.S. homes.
Four major manufacturers of fiber glass insulation have
campaigned for three years to prevent their product from being
labeled a carcinogen by the federal National Toxicology Program
(NTP). Members of the NTP concluded unanimously in 1990 that
fiber glass "may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen"
and were preparing to list fiber glass that way in the SEVENTH
ANNUAL (1992) REPORT ON CARCINOGENS, the NTP's annual listing of
cancer-causing substances. The ANNUAL REPORT is mandated by
Public Law 95-622 and represents a consensus of 10 federal health
agencies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC), of the World Health Organization, listed fiber glass as a
"probable carcinogen" in 1987.
In June of this year Mr. Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human
Services (HHS), Donna Shalala, ordered a review of the National
Toxicology Program's decision to list fiber glass as a
carcinogen, and thus postponed publication of the SEVENTH ANNUAL
REPORT. It is the first time HHS has ever called for review of
an NTP decision.
Shalala's decision was a direct response to pressure from the
North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).
NAIMA hired Washington, D.C. attorney Harrison Wellford, a former
"Nader's Raider" and member of the Clinton transition team who
had worked with Shalala in the Jimmy Carter White House in the
On February 25 Wellford wrote a "Dear Donna" letter in which he
reminisced about their days together in the White House. Then he
complained about the process by which government scientists had
concluded that fiber glass causes cancer, and finally he
threatened that NAIMA might take legal action if the NTP listed
fiber glass as a probable carcinogen. NAIMA has four members:
CertainTeed Corp.; Owens-Corning Fiber Glass Corp.; Knauf Fiber
Glass GMBH; and Schuller International, Inc. (formerly Manville
Soon after Shalala received Wellford's letter, the National
Toxicology Program staff prepared a response, denying his request
for a re-review of fiber glass. But that letter was never sent.
In late May, representatives of NAIMA met with Donald A.
Henderson, deputy assistant secretary for health and science at
HHS, where they found a receptive ear.
At the same time, the industry organized a letter-writing
campaign to members of Congress by employees of fiber glass
On June 9 Shalala told Wellford she was granting the delay he had
asked for. Three weeks later, the industry filed a formal
petition asking for the delay. The industry challenged the
criteria used by HHS and NTP in determining what substances to
list as carcinogens. The World Health Organization uses the same
A week after the formal petition was filed, according to the
WASHINGTON POST, Donald Henderson told his staff he agreed with
the industry position that the decision on fiber glass should be
put to a formal vote of the NTP executive committee and that he
wanted all the appropriate review committees to reconsider their
decisions. Henderson is former Dean of the School of Public
Health at Johns Hopkins University and is famous for organizing
the program that successfully eradicated smallpox worldwide.
Within HHS, he has become known for playing a role similar to
that played by Dan Quayle's Competitiveness Council in the Bush
administration (see RHWN #251)--an informal, behind-the-scenes
court-of-last-resort where industry can appeal to modify policies
and scientific conclusions that it does not like.
The carcinogenicity of fiber glass and other MMMFs [man-made
mineral fibers] has been the subject of scientific and medical
research for more than 20 years. In 1970, Dr. Mearl F. Stanton
at the National Cancer Institute announced that "it is certain
that in the pleura of the rat, fibrous glass of small diameter is
a potent carcinogen." The pleura is the outer casing of the
lungs; cancer of the pleura in humans is called mesothelioma and
it is caused by asbestos fibers. Stanton continued his research
and showed that it was the size of the fibers that caused them to
be carcinogenic: when glass fibers are manufactured as small as
asbestos fibers, they cause cancers in laboratory animals, as
asbestos fibers do. Asbestos is a potent human carcinogen,
which will have killed an estimated 300,000 American workers by
the end of this century. The finding that fiber glass causes
diseases similar to asbestos was chilling news in the early
1970s, and an additional 20 years of research has not made the
problem seem less serious. Workers in fiber glass and mineral
wool manufacturing plants are exposed to numbers of fibers far
lower than the numbers to which asbestos workers were exposed,
yet several industry-sponsored epidemiological studies in the
U.S., Canada, and Europe have reported statistically significant
elevations in respiratory disease, including lung
The immediate concern is for the health of manufacturing workers,
and for the health of insulation installers who may have even
more exposure (and in poorly-ventilated, enclosed spaces)
compared to manufacturing workers. Homeowners who handle small
quantities of fiber glass insulation briefly are probably in
substantially less danger, though wearing a special mask capable
of filtering out tiny fibers is always a good idea when handling
fiber glass, mineral wool or asbestos. A longer-term concern is
that all the billions of pounds of fiber glass insulation now in
buildings will eventually go somewhere after the buildings
deteriorate. Fiber glass--which only came into commercial use in
1940--is a very persistent substance and can now be measured at
low levels on remote rural mountain tops, giving rise to a
concern that humans will eventually pollute the entire atmosphere
with low levels of persistent, dangerous and irritating fibers.
Glass fibers buried in the ground have been measured "leaking"
into the air above the surface of burial sites such as
But for the present the government is only concerned about fiber
glass as it affects worker health. A 1988 review of fiber glass
studies by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and
Health (NIOSH) concluded, "Published experimental evidence [from
laboratory animals] demonstrates that fibrous glass has the same
potential for inducing cancer as asbestos fibers of the same
dimension. Recently published epidemiological data [from studies
of exposed humans] indicates that there has been a risk of lung
cancer in people employed in both the rock or slag wool and glass
wool sectors of the man-made mineral fiber industry amounting to
some 25% above normal 30 years after first employment.
Furthermore, it is likely that man-made mineral fiber may have
about the same carcinogenic potential as asbestos fibers of the
Since July, 1991, the U.S. Department of Labor has required
certain fiber glass products, including insulation, to carry a
warning label that says, "Possible cancer hazard by inhalation."
NAIMA has challenged research findings, based on the way
laboratory animals are exposed to MMMFs, such as fiber glass.
When rats breathe mineral fibers in the air, their nasal passages
efficiently capture the fibers and prevent them from entering the
lungs. Because rats cannot breathe through their mouths (the way
many children do, and the way workers exerting themselves on the
job may do), fibers are injected directly into the lungs of rats
to test for an effect. Medical researchers consider this
appropriate, since humans breathing through their mouths can draw
airborne fibers deep into their lungs. NAIMA has challenged this
technique for exposing laboratory animals to MMMFs, and is thus
challenging some of the fundamental practices of science,
medicine and public health, internationally. It is this aspect
of Donna Shalala's final response to her friends at NAIMA that
will be most interesting, and most telling.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
 Frank Swoboda, "U.S. Rethinks Calling Fiberglass Possible
Carcinogen," WASHINGTON POST September 10, 1993, pg. B-1. And
see: Melissa Levy, "U.S. To Review Research That Suggests
Fiberglass Insulation is Carcinogen," WALL STREET JOURNAL
September 13, 1993, pg. A18.
 The annual list of carcinogens is drawn up by an inter-agency
Working Group for the Annual Reports on Carcinogens, which
includes representatives from the Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry (ATSDR); the Centers for Disease Control (CDC);
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
(NIOSH); the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA); the National Cancer Institute (NCI); the
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); the
National Library of Medicine (NLM); and the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA).
 The early history of research on fiber glass was reviewed by
Katherine and Peter Montague, "Fiber Glass," ENVIRONMENT Vol. 16
(September 1974), pgs. 6-9.
 Philip J. Landrigan, "Commentary: Environmental Disease--A
Preventable Epidemic," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH Vol.
82 (July 1992), pg. 941.
 L. Simonato and others, "The International Agency for
Research on Cancer Historical Cohort of MMMF Production Workers
in Seven European Countries: Extension of the Follow-Up," ANNALS
OF OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENE Vol. 31, No. 4B (1987), pgs. 603-623.
 Philip E. Enterline and others, "Mortality Update of a Cohort
of U.S. Man-Made Mineral Fibre Workers," ANNALS OF OCCUPATIONAL
HYGIENE Vol. 31, No. 4B (1987), pgs. 625-656.
 Harry S. Shannon and others, "Mortality Experience of Ontario
Glass Fibre Workers--Extended Follow-Up," ANNALS OF OCCUPATIONAL
HYGIENE Vol. 31, No. 4B (1987), pgs. 657-662.
 John R. Goldsmith, "Comparative Epidemiology of Men Exposed
to Asbestos and Man-Made Mineral Fibers," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF
INDUSTRIAL MEDICINE Vol. 10 (1986), pgs. 543-552.
Descriptor terms: donna shalala; bill clinton; fiber glass;
carcinogens; insulation; iarc; ftp; hhs; north american
insulation manufacturers association; naima; harrison wellford;
certainteed; owens-corning fiber glass; knauf fiber glass;
schuller international; manville; donald a. henderson; who; world
health organization; dan quayle; competitiveness council; mmmfs;
asbestos; mearl f. stanton; niosh; studies;
© 1993 Peter Langston