Nevada officials ordered asbestos researchers to cease studies

23 Nov 2015 by under News, Research/Treatment

Nevada asbestos research image by KNPR.org  100x100 Nevada officials ordered asbestos researchers to cease studiesDid officials threaten a group of medical researchers who investigated sources of naturally occurring asbestos fibers within the state and linked those findings to unusually high cancer rates?

That question led a Channel 8 investigative team to look deeper into the matter, where they uncovered some troubling documents that showed some Nevada officials targeted two University of Nevada (UNLV) medical geologists and a University of Hawaii epidemiologist “for ridicule and character assassination.”

According to the Channel 8 report, Professor Brenda Buck and Rodney Metcalf, both medical geologists with UNLV and epidemiologist Francine Baumann Ph.D. of the University of Hawaii, teamed up in 2011 to study possible links between asbestos and mesothelioma. Their collaboration led them to produce a draft abstract indicating that women in Clark County, Nev., died from mesothelioma at three times the national average.

Additionally, they found that younger adults there had mesothelioma at rates five times higher than the national average. To professors Buck, Metcalf, and Bauman, these numbers indicated that people were being exposed to naturally occurring asbestos fibers somewhere.

In 2012, Dr. Tracey D. Green, Chief Medical Officer of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) learned of the abstract and charged UNLV epidemiologist Dr. Paolo Pinheiro with the task of disputing the findings by Buck, Metcalf, and Baumann as an “independent investigator.”

However, Channel 8 found that “Pinheiro accepted tens of thousands of dollars in grants from Green’s agency” and “is listed as the official epidemiologist for the Nevada Cancer Registry, which Green oversees.”

According to a memo to Dr. Pinheiro, “Probably we need to discuss again our next step in dealing with this doctor (Dr. Baumann) especially that she did not previously respect our rules and regulations.”

The researchers received a cease-and-desist order demanding a retraction of the abstract, stopping any additional publishing, and forbidding them to speak about their findings publicly or they would face legal action, according to documents obtained by Channel 8. Dr. Green also told the researchers they could never again use the Nevada Cancer Registry for data.

Dr. Metcalf told Channel 8 that the order “seemed very heavy-handed and there was no discussion.”

“I got the cease and desist 36 hours before I was going to get on a plane to go to this Geological Society of America meeting where I was going to present this, and it just scared me,” Dr. Metcalf told Channel 8.

Despite the threats, the researchers pressed on with the study of natural asbestos in Clark County. According to Channel 8, Dr. Baumann stopped accessing the Nevada Cancer Registry for data and turned instead to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) records, finding 31,526 cases of malignant mesothelioma deaths.

Source: Las Vegas Now

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