Though the dangers posed by asbestos were known even by the Greeks and the Romans thousands of years ago, the asbestos industry has always tried to maintain that they were unaware of the mineral’s harmful effects. A look at history, however, quickly demonstrates this to be false.
In 1898 an inspector in the UK Annual report of the Chief inspector of Factories wrote that, “The evil effects of asbestos have also attracted my attention. A microscopic examination of this mineral dust, which was made by the HM Medical inspector, clearly revealed the sharp, glass-like, jagged nature of the particles, and where they have been allowed to rise and remain suspended in the air of a room, in any quantity the effects have been found to be injurious as might be expected.
In 1906 a British government inquiry into compensation for industrial disease, Dr. Montague Murray, a British physician diagnosed the death of a worker as being caused by asbestos disease. In that same year sixteen deaths from pulmonary fibrosis in a French asbestos textile plant lead to the use of respirators and exhaust ventilation systems, and in Auribault 50 deaths in a weaving mill are linked to asbestos dust.
By the year 1918 Prudential life insurance along with numerous other American and Canadian life insurance companies had begun to refuse to sell personal life insurance to asbestos workers. A pattern which was duly noted in a US government report that year which also referenced previous reports from Britain in suggesting that the health hazards of this substance were well known.
Through out the 1920s over 25 articles were published on the subject of asbestos and the diseases caused by it, including a Navy medical bulletin which labeled asbestos work as a hazardous occupation and indicated that more safety equipment should be used. Also the first detailed writings on asbestosis began to appear in medical literature at that time.
It wasn’t until 1931 that the first industry Regulations concerning asbestos were established. These regulations, however, allowed levels of exposure which given 15-19 years would cause asbestosis in a third of all workers.
If all of this evidence were not incriminating enough, there are also numerous internal memos which show the industry was aware of the dangers. In 1932 Turner, of the Turner and Newall company, (now known as T&N plc.) wrote to Newall about the dust exposure rules saying: “We must take a small risk by stretching the regulations to suit our own ends.”
Upon looking at the evidence, it is clear that the asbestos industry knowingly exposed its employees to asbestos even though its dangers had been repeatedly established. This blatant disregard to workers’ and consumers’ rights continues even today with imported asbestos still being used in a variety of house hold and industrial products.