The Asbestos Industry Cover-Up
Cooper, Hart, Leggiero & Whitehead represents people with asbestos cancers against companies who manufactured various asbestos-containing products. It has been proven in part through internal company documents, in part through testimony of company employees, and in part through the availability of medical literature, that some of these companies knew about the danger of asbestos as far back as the 1920s.
It has been proven that until the early to mid-1970s, when the federal government stepped in, a group of manufacturers actively conspired to keep knowledge of asbestos hazards a secret. Some actually disseminated information indicating asbestos was a safe substance.
In that 40 to 50 year period, the industry made billions of dollars manufacturing asbestos products which were installed in almost every building, industrial site, home, school, ship, car, plane, and more in America.
Five Decades of Deceit
The following are excerpts from various asbestos manufacturers’ internal company correspondence arranged by decade:
“I think the less said about asbestos, the better off we are, but at the same time, we do not lose track of the fact that there have been a number of articles about asbestos dust control and asbestosis in the British trade magazines. The magazine Asbestos is in the business to publish articles affecting the trade and they have been very decent about not re-printing the English articles…”
Letter dated October 1, 1935, from Sumner Simpson, President of Johns Manville Corporation, to attorney, Vandiver Brown, indicating a conspiracy to withhold important health information about asbestos from the public.
“You may recall that we have written you on several occasions concerning the publishing of information, or discussion of, asbestosis and the work which has been, and is being done, to eliminate or at least reduce it.
“Always you have requested that for certain obvious reasons we publish nothing, and, naturally your wishes have been respected…”
Letter from the publisher of “Asbestos” magazine to Sumner Simpson, indicative of editorial involvement in the conspiracy of silence.
“Strategy for 1942”
“Should it not be to take the offensive?
“1. Gather as a weapon-in-reserve an impressive file of photostats of medical literature on asbestosis. Available are two bibliographies covering medical literature to 1938, citing references to scores of publications in which the lung and skin hazards of asbestos are discussed. This file would cover five or six hundred pages, which can be microphotographed in the library of the Surgeon General in Washington or in some other medical library…
“(d) If reaction is unfavorable, use the asbestosis weapon-in-reserve to let them stew. We may be sure that word of the proposal will reach competition and may give us a lever with which to go direct to the locals under the union’s professed law of local autonomy. This procedure may provide an opportunity to promote the dissension in the ranks that conceivably could bring about over-throw of the present Union leadership…”
Owens Corning Fiberglas Corporation intracompany correspondence, January, 1942, indicating OCF awareness of the voluminous medical literature about asbestos health hazards. This was written at a time when OCF was manufacturing fiberglass insulation and trying to compete with asbestos by showing the unions that asbestos was dangerous. After failing with this strategy, OCF went into the asbestos manufacturing business and adopted the strategy of other manufacturers, namely the conspiracy of silence, and the ongoing knowledge of the hazards of asbestos.
“The fact that you are starting with a mixture of quartz and asbestos would certainly suggest that you have all the ingredients for a first class hazard…”
Letter from Leroy Gardner, MD, dated March 12, 1943, to Mr. U. E. Bowes, Director of Research for Owens-Illinois Glass Company, illustrating Owens-Illinois’ awareness of a hazard in that year.
“The first item for discussion was the “Memorandum on Proposed Epidemiological Study of Lung Cancer in Asbestos Workers” for the Asbestos Textile Institute.
“This proposal had been under discussion for approximately one year and the cost of it could run from about $17,000.00 to possibly $30,000.00. After a lengthy discussion, the proposal was put to a vote and six of the eight members of the Committee voted against the continuance of the consideration of the proposal. It, therefore, was rejected for the following reasons…
“There is a feeling among certain members that such an investigation would stir up a hornet’s nest and put the whole industry under suspicion…”
Minutes of the Asbestos Textile Institute Air Hygiene and Manufacturing Committee, March 7, 1957. In attendance were: D. R. Holmes – Asten-Hill Mfg. Co.; R. B. Smith – Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc.; B. W. Luttenberger – Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc.; J. W. Weber – American Asbestos Textile Corp.; A. E. May – Keasbey & Hattison Co.; W. C. Atkinson – Johns Manville Corp.; and J. L. Mitchell – Southern Asbestos Co.
“We are pleased to enclose the following items relative to your recent request about asbestos.
Toxic Properties – from “Sax”
Article on Asbestos – from a book by “Ladov”
A quote on “Asbestosis” – from a book by “Patty”
A discussion about “Asbestosis” from a book by “Drinker & Hatch”
Hygienic Guide Series on Asbestos
Threshold Limit Values for 1961 – as established by the American Conference on Governmental Industrial Hygienists
A chart from “Patty” on “Asbestos Warts”
“We asked the Library to trace down four articles on the subject. If and when they arrive, I’ll forward them…”
Letter dated May 16, 1962, from Mr. C. Rudrick, Manager of Safety and Plant Protection, to Mr. Karl Baumier, Vice President, Pittsburgh-Corning Corporation, indicating the company’s familiarity with the medical literature about the hazards of asbestos.
“I thought it would be advisable to write to you now, because of the importance of the papers presented, the information developed and the implications pertaining to asbestos which warrant serious consideration…
“There is now agreement on an International level, from the facts and evidence presented, that there is an irrefutable association between asbestos and cancer. At present this association has been established for cancer of the lung and of the pleura and of the peritoneum (in the form of mesothelioma)…”
Letter dated October 26, 1964, from Thomas F. Mancusor, MD, Research Professor at the University of Pittsburgh — Department of Occupational Health, to Mr. John T. Cantlon, Consulting Actuary for Philip Carey Company, indicating that company’s awareness of asbestos hazards.
“Just to be sure you have a copy, an article that appeared in Chemical Week magazine is inclosed.
“So that you’ll know that Asbestos is not the only contaminating, a second article from O. P. & D. Reporter assess a share of the blame on trees.
“My answer to the problem is: if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products why not die from it. There’s got to be some cause.”
Letter dated September 12, 1966, from E. A. Martin, Director of Purchases, to Mr. Noel Hendry, Canadian Johns Manville Co., Ltd., exhibiting a frame of mind, which combines humor with callous cruelty.
“Went to Winnipeg and met Whittaker. He can’t understand why you fellows have been so quiet about asbestos? I made no comment, and he proceeded to tell me what an unethical competitor Bob Chaney is. I stated you hate to lose, but agree completely on your scruples.
“Stay unscrupulous, unethical, mean and selling Mono-Kote.
“Seriously, the fiber boys are really worried about this situation and as soon as we have the new Mono-Kote, lay it on them in your area.”
Letter dated June 1, 1970, from Thomas F. Egan to Bob Chaney, showing the evil nature of the corporate culture.
“Reference is made to your memo of September 15 regarding the warning label that should appear on Kaylo.
“Are you saying that we have to do this now? I naturally would like to delay this requirement as long as possible.”
Owens Corning Fiberglas intra-company correspondence to Dr. John Konzen from J. P. Kern (both Fiberglas employees) regarding asbestos labeling, showing the desire to delay warnings to users of the products.
The Legacy of Deceit Continues
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