Manganese – Parkinson’s Disease Litigation Shines a Light on the Way Industry Can “Buy Science”

Manganese, a chemical used in welding, has long been suspected as a culprit in the development of Parkinson’s Disease.  In fact, the manufacturers of manganese-containing welding wire and electrodes—also called rods or sticks – have been named in numerous lawsuits filed by welders stricken with the devastating disease. But for decades, the industry has been insisting its products are safe, and have been able to point to many studies that indicated there was no association between the fumes emitted from <"">manganese welding rods and Parkinson’s Disease.  But now evidence has emerged that many – if not most of those studies – which were paid for by the manufacturers, were biased to favor the industry.

Those manganese studies have served the industry well.  According to a piece in “Mother Jones”, 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.  But now, the persistence of injured welders who continued to file Parkinson’s related lawsuits even when the odds were against them might finally be paying off, thanks to a recent ruling by a US District Court Judge.

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.

It’s not unusual for industries to pay for research studies – drug companies do it all the time.  But Judge O’Malley’s order provided a rare insight into how such arrangements work.

“Mother Jones” has been able to obtain court documents detailing the payments. They 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.

The “Mother Jones” article highlights numerous studies paid for by the welding industry that are just as suspect.  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.”

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