Under its research program, Georgia-Pacific paid 18 scientists a collective $6 million, documents show. These experts were directed by Georgia-Pacific’s longtime head of toxicology, who was “specially employed” by the company’s in-house counsel to work on asbestos litigation and was under orders to hold “in the strictest confidence” all information generated.
This framework, taking a page from the tobacco industry playbook hatched years earlier, allowed Georgia-Pacific to control the science and claim all communications as privileged — not subject to discovery in litigation. A New York appeals court held recently that the communications “could have been in furtherance of a fraud,” an allegation the company has denied.
Some of the researchers hired by Georgia-Pacific sought to re-create versions of Ready-Mix and a dry joint compound that contained asbestos in the 1970s. Others tried to estimate historical worker exposures to dust from sanded compound. Still others exposed laboratory rats to the reformulated materials, employing suspect protocols; they reported that asbestos fibers were cleared quickly from the rodents’ lungs and posed no cancer threat, a theory many experts reject.
Thirteen company-funded articles were published in scientific journals. A Georgia-Pacific lawyer offered pre-publication comments, casting doubt on the objectivity of the science.
The Atlanta-based company’s research program fits into a broader pattern chronicled this year in the Center for Public Integrity series Toxic Clout: Industry’s use of well-paid experts to minimize the hazards of toxic chemicals and fend off liability, regulation, or both.
A spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, Greg Guest, declined to answer questions about the project, referring a reporter to court pleadings. In one document, the company says it “properly commissioned studies to explore scientific issues that repeatedly arise in joint compound litigation, disclosed its role in the studies themselves, and submitted them to the technical rigors of scientific peer review by qualified scientists who were neither affiliated with nor selected by Georgia-Pacific.”