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Court Papers Show Welding Industry Payments Influenced Research on Manganese Rod Fumes

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A new article in “Mother Jones” details the way the welding industry was able to pay for research to bolster its claims that manganese welding rod fumes played no role in the development of Parkinson’s Disease among welders. According to “Mother Jones”, last October US District Judge Kathleen O’Malley -whose Ohio courtroom is the fact-finding venue for hundreds of manganese lawsuits – ordered both sides in the litigation to provide a “full and complete” accounting of any payments they made to scientists or institutions that conducted or published research on the manganese – Parkinson’s Disease link.

“Mother Jones’ has been able to obtain the court papers related to those studies, and what they found was startling.  One expert told the publication that she was shocked at the extent to which the welding companies were able to influence the studies they paid for. “This has every appearance of the industry buying science,” Erin Bigler, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University who studies brain trauma, aging, and autism, told ‘Mother Jones’ after reviewing the documents. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve suspected it forever, but I’ve never seen it.”

The court papers show welding companies paid more than $12.5 million to 25 organizations and 33 researchers. As many suspected, nearly all of the published papers dismissed connections between welding fumes and Parkinson’s. “Mother Jones” found that most of the money, $11 million, was spent after 2003, when the majority of manganese lawsuits were filed. On the other hand, attorneys representing injured welders spent a mere half million.

Some of the studies paid for by the industry were obviously designed in such a way that the outcomes were all but guaranteed to favor welding companies. A case in point is one conducted by a researcher named Jon Fryzek, whose large studies of Swedish and Danish welders found no significant link between welding fumes and Parkinson’s symptoms. Unfortunately, the Fryzek studies only consisted of a review of hospital records, meaning welders who were not hospitalized were left out. What’s worse, lawyers representing welding companies were allowed to review the studies before publication, calling its purported “independence” into question.

According to “Mother Jones”, Fryzek worked for Maryland’s International Epidemiology Institute, which received more than $971,000 from welding companies. That organization is well-known for conducting industry-commissioned studies. The “Mother Jones” article said it even once published research that found no link between radiation and cancer in uranium millers.

Fryzek’s studies, and all of the other questionable research highlighted in the “Mother Jones” article have served the industry well.  The industry has won 16 of 17 lawsuits brought by welders suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.  Makers of the rods have also settled very few claims.  Hopefully, Judge O’Malley’s ruling means the welding industry will finally be held accountable.

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