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A History of Callous Disregard

Asbestos has been in use for thousands of years; and its dangers have been known almost as long. It was actually Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist in the 1st century AD, who began to suspect a connection between the fibrous material and lung disease. Yet the material remains in common use all over the world to this very day. How has that been allowed to happen?

The history of asbestos is long and often shocking. To learn more about the measures corporations have taken to save money at the cost of human lives, just continue reading. You can also learn about the government’s involvement (or lack thereof) in preventing these tragedies by consulting the links below:

Corporate Cover-Ups

The long-suspected dangers of asbestos exposure had been scientifically established by the 1940’s. This fact has come as a great surprise to many workers of that era, who know from experience that their employers hardly began cutting down on use of the material.

The problem was not that companies were not informed of modern scientific research. The problem was that they knew and simply did not care. A few examples of deliberate cover-ups include:

  • In 1948, the Owens-Corning Glass Company learned from its lab department that a new product, Kaylo, produced ‘fibrosis’ typical of asbestosis in the lungs of laboratory animals. The lab director stated that the company “will be in a better position to institute adequate control measures to safeguard exposed employees.” Instead, they advertised Kaylo as “light-weight, pleasant handling, non-irritating and non-toxic.”
  • In a report dated April 12, 1949, the research department of Standard Oil of New Jersey (later to become Exxon) listed contaminants present in the plant, along with their known hazards. Among them was listed ‘silica and asbestos’ conditions causing “silicosis, fiberosis, erythemia and cancer of the lungs.” The report is stamped “Company Confidential – Not for Publication in Present Form.” It was never released, and no safety measures were taken.
  • In 1949, the Johns-Manville Corporation adopted a formal company policy to NOT tell company employees when their physicals indicated that they had asbestosis. Not only did they fail to warn their workers of the dangers of asbestos, they chose to conceal vital health information that might have allowed the workers to obtain treatment or prevent further damage by continued exposure.
  • In 1964, the Philip Carey Manufacturing Company hired a doctor to investigate the effects of asbestos on its workers. Dr. Thomas Mancuso reported that,

    There is an irrefutable association between asbestos and cancer… There is suggestive evidence… for cancer of the stomach, colon and rectum also. There is substantial evidence that cancer and mesothelioma have developed in environmentally exposed groups, i.e., due to air pollution for groups living near asbestos plants and mines. Evidence has been established for cancer developing among members of the household. Mesotheliomas have developed among wives, laundering the work clothes of asbestos workers. Substantial evidence has been presented that slight and intermittent exposures may be sufficient to produce lung cancer and mesothelioma (Bowker, Michael. 2003. Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos Is Killing America. pg. 171).

    The company’s reaction was to fire Dr. Mancuso and bury the report.

Avoiding “Panic”

By the 1960’s, insurance companies were unable to deny the overwhelming number of asbestos workers being treated for mesothelioma, pleural plaques, asbestosis, and other diseases. The obvious solution would have been to stop using asbestos, or at least institute better workplace safety measures. Instead, companies and their insurance companies worried that employees would “panic” if they became aware of the dangers they faced every day.

Major companies such as Honeywell, Dow, Dupont, General Motors, Ford and General Electric scrambled to hide the truth about asbestos from their workers. Their insurance companies (including Metropolitan Life and Travelers’ Insurance) played along by concealing statistics and other information about workers’ health claims. It appears that addressing these major health concerns would simply be too expensive. The cheapest option was to simply continue faking ignorance.

Recent Asbestos Scandals

It would be comforting to think that these cover-ups and scandals were a thing of the past. Sadly, that is not the case. As recently as 2005, the WR Grace Company was indicted for callously ignoring the health and safety of their employees. The prosecution presented evidence of a shocking level of disregard for not only workers, but innocent children.

Decades’ worth of memos clearly show that the company’s management was well aware of the risks of asbestos, but chose not to take even basic measures to protect employers. Worse, between 1976 and 1992, the company continued to supply mill tailings for elementary, junior high and high schools in the community to build running tracks and ice skating rinks. They knew full well that the materials were contaminated with asbestos, but apparently did not mind exposing children to a toxic substance.

Fighting Back

In recent years, injured workers and their families have finally begun fighting back against these reckless companies. If you or a loved one has been a victim of corporate negligence, contact asbestos lawyers Williams Hart at 800-781-3955.

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