Early Years of Asbestos

In the early 1900's, it was reported that the inhalation of asbestos dust could cause severe lung disease.  In 1927, this disease was named asbestosis.  Throughout the 1930s, articles about asbestosis were published in the American and British medical literature.  These articles described the symptoms, chest x-ray findings, and other characteristics of the disease, as well as the dust control procedures that were necessary to prevent the disease.  Beginning in the 1930s, doctors warned about the importance of educating workers about the hazards of asbestos and the future risk of asbestos disease in industries such as shipbuilding.  In 1932, the Johns-Manville Board of Directors approved the settlement of eleven asbestosis lawsuits in New Jersey on the condition that the settlement remain confidential and that the claimant's attorney refuse to file any additional claims.  This was the beginning of a massive cover-up by the asbestos industry that lasted for 40 years.

By 1935, Johns-Manville Corporation and the asbestos industry were engaged in a wide variety of activities to prevent the publication of information concerning the hazards of asbestos, as well as means to defeat the "shyster" lawyers who represented asbestos claimants.  In 1935, Drs. Lynch and Smith published the first major medical article associating asbestos with lung cancer.  In 1938, the U.S. Public Health Service issued a safety standard for asbestos; however, it was recognized in that same year that 50% of the workers were contracting asbestosis even if they complied with the safety standard; consequently, it was known that exposures in the workplace were too high.  By the 1940s, government safety regulations on the use of asbestos products were published, but these safety regulations were ignored by the asbestos industry, and the workers were never told that both the industry and the government knew that asbestos was dangerous.  By 1949, the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded "the occurrence of cancer of the lung is related to pulmonary asbestosis."  Also by this time, doctors had begun to diagnose another disease caused by asbestos exposure.  This disease was called mesothelioma.

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