It seems that the asbestos industry knew for decades that their products were deadly, yet they continued to expose their workers to them. Hundreds of thousands of people have developed asbestos-related illnesses, and many have died, as a result of this cover up. Most worrisome, now that asbestos is widely banned, cover ups continue and some businesses are even lobbying Congress to get protection from lawsuits.
History of Asbestos Dangers
At the start of the 20th century, a UK doctor determined that one of his textile industry patients died from an asbestos-related illness. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated in 1918 that they had seen higher mortality rates in the asbestos industry. And by 1930, the term ‘asbestosis’ was created. And while it is wholly banned in 50 countries, asbestos is still legal in some places in our country.
The Industry Knew
In 1948, the first internal memo was sent out, although not to the public.
“I realize that our findings regarding Kaylo (brand of insulation) are less favorable than anticipated. However, since Kaylo is capable of producing asbestosis, it is better to discover it now in animals rather than later in industrial workers.”
Further memos followed, including a 1949 Exxon memorandum, which listed asbestos as a carcinogenic, as well as a 1958 National Gypsum Co. memo, stating that inhaling asbestos will lead to asbestosis.
A Large Scale Coverup
It is now a known fact that companies knew that asbestos could cause significant injury and even death, but that they chose to keep this knowledge hidden. One memo by the Bendix Corporation was particularly harrowing.
“My answer to the problem is: if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products why not die from it.”
Bendix Corporation became Honeywell, which now supports the ‘FACT Act’, which aims to protect asbestos manufacturers from lawsuits by delaying and denying compensation. Other companies were even aware of breaking OSHA regulations and wrote that they would investigate, but not tell their employees. One example of this is Babcock and Wilcox, who wrote a memo of their own.
“The investigation is going to be handled as discreetly as possible. It is a concern of the meeting attendees that a labor violation such as a walkout or an OSHA citation would be forthcoming if the hourly labor force was aware of the apparent danger of asbestos exposure…. As the situation stands right now no one in the meeting wants the warning signs posted at this time.”
The list of employers not informing their personnel or covering up their knowledge is nearly endless. Ford Motor Co., for instance, felt that it was too much to spend $1.25 per car to get rid of asbestos brakes. Union Carbide, meanwhile, trained its sales personnel on how to stave of questions from consumers who were afraid of asbestos exposure.
Covering Up Through the Press
It seems that asbestos manufacturers and companies using asbestos put measures in place to get the press on their side. The goal was to make asbestos a non-news item, so that they would stop printing about the dangerous mineral.
Around 1980, the first major lawsuits against asbestos companies had started. U.S. Gypsum Company was sued for exposure in school districts. This company then hired Hill and Knowlton, a famous public relations firm, in order to word the dangers of asbestos in a non-threatening way and find expert testimony to support that.
By 1984, Hill and Knowlton formed the Safe Buildings Alliance to enable asbestos manufacturers and employers to pool resources to fight law suits.
“[The SBA] could also act to deflect attention away from affected companies [and] take the heat from activist industry critics.”
The SBA grew to epic proportions, including members of the press, and huge research companies that suddenly seemed to have proof that asbestos brake pads did not pose a threat to the health of mechanics. Ford Motor Co. alone spent over $40 million supporting this type of research, and this research tipped the scales in favor of the asbestos industry.
“The “asbestos related research which resulted in publications which have been enormously illuminating to the courts and juries… In my view, these papers have changed the scientific playing field in the courtroom.”
It seems that there has been quite literally a 70 year long conspiracy to cover up the dangers of asbestos, and this conspiracy continues to this day. Research that favor the idea that asbestos is not dangerous continue to this day, regardless of the fact that it has been unequivocally proven that asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and other serious illnesses. Every year, some 15,000 Americans die of these diseases, a price they seem to have to pay for the profitability of the companies that they have devoted their lives to.