Irving Selikoff

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Dr. Irving J. Selikoff (1915 in New York City – May 20, 1992 in Ridgewood, New Jersey) was a medical researcher who in the 1960s established a link between the inhalation of asbestos particles and lung-related ailments. His work is largely responsible for the regulation of asbestos today. He also co-discovered a treatment for tuberculosis.[1]

Occupational Safety and Health[edit]

In the 1960s Selikoff documented asbestos-related diseases among industrial workers.[2] He found that workers exposed to asbestos often had scarred lung tissue 30 years after exposure. His research is credited with having pressured the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to limit workplace exposure to asbestos.[3]

In the 1950s, Selikoff had opened a general-medicine practice called the Paterson Clinic in Paterson, NJ. A few years later, the Asbestos Workers Union asked him to add their membership to his practice. He agreed, and business picked up noticeably. In a few years, however, Selikoff noticed surprising events; several new cases of pleural mesothelioma were diagnosed in a year—the expected incidence was about 5/100,000. (The new cohort (asbestos workers) were still a small fraction of the clinic's patient list, but this small group faced grave and novel risks.)

This anomaly led Selikoff into an examination of the relation between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. He became aware of hundreds of articles previously published on this issue. He engaged in additional studies of groups of asbestos workers, in particular shipyard workers including those at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. By 1965, he had conducted various studies, published several articles, conducted special scientific symposia, and been interviewed by the New York Times. Each of these raised public awareness of the issue, which had been known to the occupational health community but which had not yet reached widespread public awareness. One of the most well-known and important was the international conference on the "Biological Effects of Asbestos" under the auspices of the renowned New York Academy of Sciences. The results of these presentations were publiced in Volume 132 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published in 1965.[4]

For many years, Selikoff was director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Division[3] of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. After his death, it was renamed the "Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine".[5] He has received awards from the American Public Health Association, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Cancer Society. He was also awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 1955. In 1982 he co-founded the Collegium Ramazzini along with Cesare Maltoni and other scientists.[6]

Irving J. Selikoff Award and Lecture[edit]

The Irving J. Selikoff Award and Lecture was instituted in 1993 by the Collegium Ramazzini. The award is given periodically to a scientist or humanist whose studies and achievements have contributed to the protection of workers' health and the environment.[6]

Shooting the messenger: the vilification of Irving J. Selikoff[edit]

Prior to Selikoff's publications in this area, the US "had been the world's greatest consumer of asbestos."[7] Selikoff's efforts to publicize his research and that of others placed him "at the center of the key controversies connected with the mineral. In these controversies, Selikoff was consistently demonized as a media zealot who exaggerated the risks of asbestos on the back of bogus medical qualifications and flawed science. Since his death, the criticism has become even more vituperative and claims have persisted that he was malicious or a medical fraud. However, most of the attacks on Selikoff were inspired by the asbestos industry or its sympathizers, and for much of his career he was the victim of a sustained and orchestrated campaign to discredit him. The most serious criticisms usually more accurately describe his detractors than Selikoff himself".[8]


Selikoff continued to research the effects of asbestos up to the age of 75.[3] He died May 20, 1992, at the age of 77.[1]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research". Albert Lasker foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  2. ^ McCullough, J.; Tweedale, G. (2007). "Science is not sufficient: Irving J. Selikoff and the asbestos tragedy". New Solutions: A journal of environmental and health policy solutions. 4 17 (4): 293–310. doi:10.2190/NS.17.4.f. PMID 18184623. 
  3. ^ a b c Hooper, Joseph (November 25, 1990). "The Asbestos Mess". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, by Barry Castleman, PhD, Aspen Press, 192004, 5th Ed., p. 108
  5. ^ "Mount Sinai - Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine". The Mount Sinai Medical Center. Archived from the original on 2007-07-03. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  6. ^ a b "Mount Sinai’s Dr. Philip J. Landrigan Awarded the Irving J. Selikoff Award". The Mount Sinai Medical Center. Retrieved 2009-04-03. 
  7. ^ McCulloch, Jock; Tweedale, Geoffrey (2007), "Shooting the messenger: the vilification of Irving J. Selikoff", Int J Health Serv. 37 (4): 619–634, doi:10.2190/hs.37.4.b, PMID 18072311  Part of the contrary perspective was presented by a Nathan A. Schachtman, an adjunct lecturer at the Columbia Law School. He stated that Selikoff and his supporters organized a lopsided medical conference, writing “One can only imagine the hue and cry that would arise if a defendant company had funded a lopsided medical conference, arranged for the conference to feature defendant’s expert witnesses, set out to give short shrift to opposing points of view, invited key judges to attend the conference, and paid for the judges’ travel and hotel expenses.” This quote from Schachtman came from a web site he maintained,"Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Testimony".  unlike the quote from McCulloch and Tweedale, whose comments were published only after being accepted by reviewers for a refereed academic journal."Nathan A. Schachtman". Columbia Law School. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  8. ^ according to McColloch and Tweedale, research professors at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and authors of an article entitled, "Shooting the messenger: the vilification of Irving J. Selikoff".