IARC monographs, industry influence, and upgrading, downgrading, and under-grading chemicals: a personal point of view. International Agency for Research on Cancer

Int J Occup Environ Health. 2002 Jul-Sep;8(3):249-70. doi: 10.1179/107735202800338795.


The first IARC Monographs Volume was distributed in 1972, and over the 23 years through 1993, under the leadership of Dr Lorenzo Tomatis, 59 IARC Monographs were completed. During 1977-1979 the author was privileged to lead the program for Volumes 15-22, and participated in the pioneering development of the LARC Preamble and Categories of Evidence. During this era other Chiefs of the IARC Monographs included Claus Agthe, Harri Vainio, Antero Aitio, and Julian Wilbourn. Since then (starting with Volume 62: 1995), a new attitude seems to have pervaded the IARC Monographs program, resulting in an increasing influence of or partiality for industry and a diminishing dedication to public and occupational health and safety concerns, and for primary prevention. Some of this attitude comes from an apparent misguided scientific zest prematurely to endorse purported or hypothetical mechanisms of chemical carcinogenesis or modes of action of chemicals causing cancer in experimental animals. These speculations are in turn used cavalierly to discount the value of experimental evidence for predicting probable carcinogenicity to humans. Most often this is accomplished by opining that the mechanism(s) of carcinogenicity in animals would not be operative in humans. End of explanation. Examples whereby the IARC has recently "down-graded" or "under-graded" the available evidence of carcinogenicity include: acrylonitrile; atrazine; benzidine-based dyes; 1,3-butadiene, dichloromethane (methylene chloride); di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate; glass wool insulation; MtBE [methyl tertiary butyl ether]; ochratoxin A; saccharin; sunlamps and sunbeds (use of); trichloroethylene; sulfamethazine; and others more inclusively mentioned in the text and tables. Further impeding or compromising public health, chemicals causing site-specific cancers in animals attendant with calculi/precipitate in the urinary bladder, goiter and thyroid gland, kidney and alpha-2mu globulin, peroxisome proliferation and liver tumors, and cell proliferation in general have led the IARC to discount these car- cinogenic effects. To stem this tide at the IARC, new leadership, with more objectivity and public health perspective, is needed.

Publication types

  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens / classification*
  • Chemical Industry*
  • Conflict of Interest*
  • Environmental Health*
  • Hazardous Substances / adverse effects
  • Hazardous Substances / classification*
  • Humans
  • International Agencies / standards*
  • Occupational Health
  • Peer Review, Research
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • Public Health
  • Publication Bias*
  • Scientific Misconduct


  • Carcinogens
  • Hazardous Substances