The dangers of asbestos were recognized and documented long before the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in the 1970s to ban the use of the material in the United States. In Roman times, historian Pliny the Elder and geographer Strabo pointed out that workers exposed to asbestos were often ill and were dying at a very young age. They even went as far as to recommend that no one purchase slaves who had previously worked in the asbestos quarries.
Asbestos DangersBy the late 1800s, as more and more individuals began working in factories, physicians began attributing pulmonary problems to the inhalation of asbestos dust, and by 1906, the first documented case of asbestos-related death was reported. Because such disease and its accompanying symptoms often did not develop until approximately 10-40 years after exposure, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that many cases came to light. By 1928, the name Asbestosis became the tag for lung diseases thought to be caused by asbestos inhalation.
It was shortly after this that companies began to cover up the suspected effects of asbestos and the dangers of working with this material. Companies that produced asbestos or asbestos products began circulating “internal memos” as to suspicious worker fatalities and had private discussions about the medical reports that documented their employees’ asbestos-related deaths. Such information was concealed from other employees who may have been at risk.
By the mid-1930s, large corporations were settling lawsuits brought about by victims of Asbestosis by demanding that their lawyers never again participate in the bringing of new actions against them on behalf of other asbestos-related disease sufferers. Furthermore, it’s been documented that corporate officials in the 1930s and 1940s altered warnings that were issued by insurance companies to employees, downplaying the dangers of asbestos inhalation.
When major asbestos companies did agree to conduct health studies in regards to the effects of working with asbestos, they took it upon themselves to once again alter the results, erasing any information that related asbestos to serious pulmonary disease before these reports were released to their employees and/or the general public.
By this time, physicians began noticing that their asbestos-exposed patients had not only contracted asbestosis - characterized by such symptoms as difficulty breathing, an enlarged heart, and persistent dry cough – but many appeared to also be suffering from lung cancer. The “c” word further alarmed asbestos companies and an extensive cover-up became all the more important in preserving their profits.
Factory supervisors and others that attempted to expose risks or to implement safety precautions were usually stopped in their tracks. Finally, in 1964, those who had long touted the dangers of working with asbestos were backed by a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, penned by Dr. Irving Selikoff, stating that, among those who work with asbestos-containing materials, there was an abnormal incidence of asbestosis, lung cancer, and Mesothelioma. Still, asbestos company owners attempted to negate or alter the facts found in this article and other such reports.
At last, in 1971, the first OSHA asbestos-exposure standard was issued. By 1973, the EPA banned spray-on asbestos insulation, noting that it was an air pollution hazard. Towards the end of the 1970s, documentation began to surface which proved that many large corporations had suppressed information about the dangers of exposure to asbestos, hoping to avoid lawsuits by affected employees and/or their families.
In 1979, the U.S. EPA announced their intention to issue a ruling that banned all uses of asbestos. Many other countries followed suit within the next decade. Still, there are countries, many in South America, that have not yet banned the use of asbestos in construction and other products. Furthermore, the decades-long cover-up will long affect those who worked with asbestos prior to the 1980s.
Were you or someone you love the victim of the asbestos industry cover-up? Have your rights been compromised? To learn more about your options, sign up for our free information packet on asbestos and asbestos-related diseases. It’s never too late to learn more about this deadly material that has affected the lives of thousands upon thousands of hard-working individuals throughout the last century.