Did Manufacturers Know that Asbestos was Toxic?
When you hear the word “asbestos” nothing good comes to mind. Everyone knows that asbestos is bad for you and can cause serious illnesses including mesothelioma and lung cancer.
For a long time, this wasn’t common knowledge – at least for workers and others that were exposed. But when it came to corporations that mined or processed asbestos or those that chose to use it in their products or in their facilities, the dangers were well known and documented.
In part four of our 12 part campaign to expose asbestos myths, we’ll examine the myth that corporations didn’t know asbestos was a danger.
Myth – Corporations and manufacturers did not know asbestos was toxic and could harm workers.
Fact – By the late 1800s, reports of worker sickness from asbestos first became known to factory owners and manufacturers but this information was not shared with workers and no steps were taken to protect workers from these on-the-job hazards.
Fact – In the 1920s, medical journals began to report asbestos illnesses and coined the term “asbestosis” but these articles would be unknown to the average blue collar worker.
Fact – In 1930, the first medical study about asbestos was published in a journal and recommended that all workers should be protected from asbestos dust and told of the dangers of working near it. Asbestos manufacturers were warned in a report by Aetna Insurance that asbestos disease “usually results in total permanent disability followed by death.”
Fact – In 1949, Exxon prepared an internal confidential report on work conditions at their manufacturing plants and admitted they knew asbestos caused “lung cancer” and listed that their “brick masons, insulators, laborers and pipe benders” could be affected but they never warned the workers. 25 years later, in an internal memo, Exxon stated “Not only are we violating the existing regulations… but we are also failing to protect our employees and the families of our employees from asbestos exposure.” The manufacturer knowingly allowed exposure to continue unchecked for decades without notifying employees.
Fact – In 1964, a doctor hired by manufacturer Philip Carey reported to the company that “There is an irrefutable association between asbestos and cancer… Evidence has been established for cancer developing among members of the household… among wives laundering the work clothes of asbestos workers.” This report was buried and the doctor was fired. Workers and their families were never informed.
Fact – Not only were workers and their families exposed and sickened by manufacturers, but people living near manufacturing centers that used asbestos. A memo to Travelers Insurance from their attorney about a local plant stated “Confidentially, John-Manville has been contaminating the hell out of both the air and the water for quite some time.” Again, the public was not alerted to the dangers that were discovered.
Fact – Over decades, corporations were fully aware of the devastating negative effect of asbestos on workers, their families and the community yet hid studies, rewrote reports, studied worker health in secret and chose profits over people again and again when they did not protect workers or allow them to make informed choices about working in a dangerous environment.
Fact – Companies such as Union Carbide openly lied to consumers buying their products and workers handling their products saying their products were “asbestos free” and that asbestos was not a danger. As a result, many workers stopped wearing protective equipment when handling their products.
Fact – Once studies and reports began to be widely released, corporations turned on the defensive and teamed up with their lawyers to prepare a vigorous defense, hide or destroy documents and convince doctors and researchers to lie to help cover companies’ tracks.
Fact – If corporations had acted responsible when they first conclusively knew the dangers of asbestos (in the 20s and 30s), countless lives could have been saved. But the instincts of these companies was to choose profitability and deny accountability, knowing it was effectively choosing to kill workers. This is chilling.
Our practice is devoted to helping mesothelioma victims and since our founding, we’ve won more than $600 million for workers and their families that were exposed to asbestos by these unscrupulous corporations. No matter where or when you were exposed, or if you’re unsure how you may have been exposed to asbestos, we can help.
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