Frank Advocacy on Welding Health “Effects”

Arthur L. Frank is a professor and the chair of Drexel University School of Public Health’s program in Environmental and Occupational Health. Frank testifies fairly extensively for plaintiffs in asbestos litigation. See, e.g., Frank Affidavit. He also has testified for plaintiffs in manganese fume litigation brought by welders, although he has no specialty training in movement disorder neurology.

Although Arthur Frank has testified for plaintiffs in asbestos cases, he does not appear to comply with professional association disclosure of conflicts, when he presents on asbestos issues. See, e.g.,More Hypocrisy Over Conflicts of Interest” (Dec. 4, 2010). The same disregard for conflict disclosures seems to hold for his work on welding health outcomes.

Last year, in September 2013, Frank presented a poster at the 11th Inhaled Particles XI (IPXI) conference, organized by the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS). Frank’s poster was entitled,Health Effects of Welding Fumes,” although the poster reported only a cross-sectional study without controls from Qingdao City, China. Frank provided no conflict-of-interest disclosure in the poster. Arthur Frank, Huanqiang Zhang, and Chunsheng Xu, “Health Effects of Welding Fumes,” Inhaled Particle XI Conference, Nottingham, U.K. (Sept. 2013). His current C.V., available online, reports this as an abstract from the Inhaled Articles conference. One does not need an epidemiologic study to see how scientists could choke on this article if inhaled.

Frank’s study was based upon an anonymous questionnaire to 505 steel welders, at state-owned, foreign-funded, and privately owned companies, in Qingdao City, China. No industrial hygiene exposure measurements or use of personal respiratory protection is reported. No physical examinations are reported. No statistical tests are reported. Frank reported a “symptom” of unsteady gait/difficulty walking of 1%, but he and his Chinese colleagues did not report whether this 1% had musculo-skeletal or neurological problems. The former would be fairly common among tradesmen such as welders whose work often puts them at risk of traumatic injury.

According to Frank, a “striking” finding was an 18% prevalence hand tremor among those working at least 15 years, with lower prevalence reported for less than 5 years (4%), at 5 years (3%), and at 10 years (5%). Frank offered no explanation of how these prevalence rates were ascertained in a cross-sectional questionnaire based study; nor did Frank offer any qualification as to whether these hand tremors were rest or action tremor, bilateral or unilateral, or of any particular kind. Notwithstanding the severe limitations of this “study,” Frank offers a conclusion that “[m]anganese from inhaled particles from welding fumes cause serious outcomes in welders. Welding fumes also cause other health effects. Workplace hygiene correlates with health outcome.”

Shortly after the Inhaled Particles conference, a colleague reported that Frank had testified in an asbestos case that he had submitted a “manganese in welding” manuscript to the Annals of Industrial Hygiene, which is the journal of the (BOHS). To date, no article by Frank has appeared in this, or any, journal.

Perhaps the only interesting aspect of this little cross-sectional study, based upon self-reported symptoms, is that workers employed by the communist state report a higher rate of symptoms than those employed by privately owned companies. More evidence that worker illness, if any there should be, is not necessarily the result of the “profit motive” of private corporations. The abstract also shows that at some scientific conferences, anything goes with respect to conflicts-of-interest disclosures and shameless advocacy.

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