Although knowledge of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure was limited to the average person, many asbestos product manufacturers were aware of the hazards. Rather than alert their employees and provide adequate safety measures, they instead opted to protect business interests by remaining silent. The consequences were devastating. Asbestos exposure is known to cause an incurable disease, mesothelioma, and a number of potentially fatal lung disorders, including asbestosis. The occurrences of these diseases increased dramatically in the 1960's and 1970's as asbestos gained wider use, but the companies producing and using asbestos did not do enough to protect their employees from exposure to this hazardous material.
Key dates when asbestos hazards were recognized and the asbestos industry's denial, deception and document suppression.
- 1900 London physician finds asbestos fibers in lungs of asbestos textile factory employee who died at age 33 from severe pulmonary
- 1918 A Prudential Insurance Company official notes that life insurance companies will not cover asbestos workers, because of the “health-injurious conditions of the industry.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes report noting unusual early deaths of asbestos workers.
- 1932 Letter from U.S. Bureau of Mines to asbestos manufacturer Eagle-Picher states: “It is now known that asbestos dust is one of the most dangerous dusts to which man is exposed.”
- 1933 Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. doctors find that 29 percent of workers in asbestos manufacturer Johns Manville's plants
- 1934 Aetna Insurance's Attorney's Textbook of Medicine devotes a full chapter to asbestos exposure, noting that asbestosis
was “incurable” and usually results in disability followed by death.
- 1936 A group of asbestos companies agrees to sponsor research on the health effects of asbestos dust, but require that the companies maintain complete control over the disclosure of results.
- 1949 An internal Exxon memo marked “Company Confidential” documents lung cancer from asbestos.
- 1951 Asbestos companies remove all references to cancer before allowing publication of research they sponsor.
- 1958 Asbestos corporation, National Gypsum Co., inter-office memo states, “just as certain as death and taxes… if you inhale asbestos dust you get asbestosis.”
- 1964 Dr. Irving Selikoff publishes a study of asbestos workers in the Journal of the American Medical Association, proving that
people who work with asbestos-containing materials have an abnormal incidence of asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
- 1966 A Bendix (now part of Honeywell) memo states, “if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos why not die from it.”
- 1970 An internal asbestos industry memo urges: “Stay unscrupulous, unethical, mean, and selling Mono-kote [asbestos products].”
- 1971 First OSHA asbestos-exposure standard issued.
- 1972 A Union Carbide memo urges “aggressiveness” when handling inquiries form customers about OSHA regulations.
Today thousands of people in the United States are diagnosed each year with diseases caused by asbestos exposure.