Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products and many of the companies who employed the men and women who worked with and around these products knowingly exposed workers to the hazards of asbestos for decades. The attitude of many of these companies is illustrated by the testimony of Charles H. Roemer, formerly an employee of Unarco, who described a meeting between Unarco officials and Johns-Manville President Lewis Brown and his brother, Vandiver Brown, in the early 1940s:
“I’ll never forget, I turned to Mr. Brown, one of the Browns made this crack (that Unarco managers were a bunch of fools for notifying employees who had asbestosis), and I said, ‘Mr. Brown, do you mean to tell me you would let them work until they dropped dead?’ He said, ‘Yes. We save a lot of money that way.’ ” 1
This callous attitude is repeated time and again in numerous industry documents over the course of decades. The companies that manufactured and used asbestos-containing products had many sources of information demonstrating the hazards of asbestos exposure: published scientific and medical literature; industry trade organizations; and in some cases, the company’s own internal reports, studies, or other documentation.
The myriad of documents produced and possessed by the asbestos industry over the years share a common theme: uncontroverted evidence that asbestos exposure causes disease and death in people exposed to it. This information could have prevented countless asbestos-related deaths had these companies utilized this information to protect workers and the public.
The asbestos companies that made a fortune off of deadly asbestos products watched as many of their workers slowly died from asbestos-related disease and did nothing.
In many cases, those company executives not only knew of the dangers of asbestos, but they withheld them from unsuspecting workers. Thousands of documents obtained through Baron & Budd litigation reveal the uncaring attitude of these company executives. Sharing the information, or at least providing adequate safety measures, could have saved thousands of lives. Instead, companies chose to boost profits.
In the 1930s studies funded by the asbestos industry itself showed a link between cancer and asbestos. The executives agreed to suppress the information. They devised a plan to convince editors of asbestos trade magazines to eliminate the word “cancer” from their publications. They even ignored suggestions from scientists to caution workers about exposure.
In the years that followed, companies limited the use of asbestos. However, it’s still used today in some products to make roofing materials, brake shoes for vehicles and pipe insulation. Government agencies have attempted to minimize workers’ exposure, but efforts to ban asbestos have seen little success.
The Environmental Protection Agency came close to banning asbestos in the late 1980s, but major corporations flexed their financial muscles and sued the agency, citing economic ruin. Even Quebec and the Canadian government, which for years has allowed large-scale asbestos mining, came to the American asbestos industry’s aid. Ultimately, judges in the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the ban. The court’s decision essentially said that the EPA has no authority to order a ban.
Today, asbestos exposure victims and their advocates lobby politicians to pass laws that ban the toxic mineral. Those who have developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure fight for their lives and fight for their day in court. Meanwhile, company executives still claim no wrongdoing.
Corporate Documents Reveal Hidden Truths
…The director of purchasing for asbestos manufacturer Bendix Corp. wrote those callous words in 1966.
The director of purchasing for asbestos manufacturer Bendix Corp. wrote those callous words in 1966. He knew the dangers that came from working with or near asbestos. But like many executives at that time, he chose to ignore the warnings.
His quote sums up the industry’s conscious disregard for the lives, health and safety of the American worker. Sadly, it’s just a small sampling. Over our more than 40 years of handling mesothelioma lawsuits, Baron & Budd’s mesothelioma attorneys have uncovered thousands of internal memos, scientific studies and other documents that reveal the industry’s coldhearted attitude about asbestos dangers.
Doctors and scientists first began noting the declining health in asbestos workers in the late 19th century. But as early as the 1920s, company executives knew about the link between asbestos and lung disease. In fact, in 1936 the industry funded its own “independent” scientific study that first revealed the connection between asbestos and cancer in animals.
Based on these results, a responsible company would have limited workers’ exposure or eliminated it altogether. Instead, company executives suppressed the study’s results. Executives agreed that they would publish the report with redacted references to cancer and tumors. The information that could have saved lives remained hidden.
Industry officials also convinced the trade publication, Asbestos Magazine, to publish nothing about the asbestos dangers. In 1939, the publisher of Asbestos Magazine wrote a letter to one industry executive saying that he would see to it that references to asbestosis would be eliminated or reduced.
“You have requested that for certain obvious reasons we publish nothing, and naturally, your wishes have been respected,” the publisher wrote.
These are just a sampling of the almost endless line of documents revealing the callous attitude of American industry toward asbestos dangers and its conscious disregard for the lives, health and safety of the American worker.
The asbestos tragedy was preventable, had the asbestos industry acted responsibly. The unfortunate legacy of the asbestos industry’s actions is the public health crisis that continues to plague the United States today.
Sampling of Union Carbide Internal Documents
Provided below are confidential internal memos from Dow Chemical subsidiary Union Carbide employees regarding the hazardous effects of asbestos. The internal memos show that Union Carbide was keenly aware in the mid-1960s that short term exposures, even those as short as one day, could put workers at risk for developing fatal cancers thirty or more years later.
Union Carbide determined that informing users of the potential of developing cancer by putting warnings on their asbestos that used the word “cancer” would be fatal to their business interests of selling asbestos, and accordingly chose to never inform users with a warning regarding cancer.
Decades later Union Carbide was still actively pushing its asbestos. At this point it performed a “risk analysis” regarding its own potential risk of losing money in future lawsuits. Union Carbide estimated that tens of thousands of workers would develop cancer, but that only a small percentage would actually file lawsuits, and so it determined the cost of future liability would not necessitate it from ceasing the sale of asbestos.
Most recently, the uncovering of these documents were instrumental in obtaining a substantial verdict for a mesothelioma patient who was exposed to asbestos by Dow Chemical subsidiary Union Carbide and other companies. Union Carbide was specifically held responsible for punitive damages for knowingly exposing workers to cancer-causing materials. The verdict amount was awarded, in part, because of the information exposed in the documents below.
- Memo – “Asbestos Toxicology Report” – 1966
- Report – “Asbestos as a Hazard in the U.K” – 1967
- Memo – “Medical Department Response” – 1967
- Report – “Calindria Asbestos Fact Sheet” – 1968
- Memo – “Asbestos Medical Correspondence” – 1968
- Report – “Calindria Asbestos Toxicology Report” – 1969
- Memo – “Toxicity of Calindria Asbestos” – 1970
- Report – “Calindria Asbestos Safety Report” – 1972
- Memo – “Asbestos Safety Variations” – 1973
- Memo – “Asbestos Exposures on Tape-Joint Workers” – 1974
- Report – “Asbestos Sales Report” – 1980
- Report – “Calindria Asbestos Safety Facts” – 1984
Disclaimer: Results obtained depend on the facts of each case. Award amounts are not actual cash amounts received by plaintiffs. Deductions are made for liens, attorney fees and expenses.
Early industry-funded studies showed a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer – a revelation that, if made known to the public, could have prevented countless deaths. Tragically, the asbestos industry made the conscious decision to protect their profits instead, and kept this information from the public.
One of the principal research contractors used by the asbestos industry was the Saranac Laboratory for Research on Tuberculosis. The Saranac Laboratory had originally been created as an adjunct to a sanatorium in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The Saranac Laboratory already had facilities for animal experimentation on dusts to study the synergistic effects of silicosis and tuberculosis in the early 1920s. As a result, the laboratory was equipped to investigate the effects of other dusts, as well.
Some of the earliest studies on asbestos at Saranac was funded by the asbestos industry, and it resulted in a series of documents now known as the “Sumner Simpson Papers.” In 1936, several asbestos companies together funded a research contract at Saranac, which was subsequently renewed yearly for 10 years.
The revelations of the Saranac studies included a demonstrated relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer. However, at a January 1947 meeting between members of the companies that funded this research, it was decided that:
“there would be no publication of the research of experiments without [the group’s] consent,” and that any publication “would not include any objectionable material…as, for example, any relation between asbestos and cancer.”
As a result, the final publication regarding these asbestos dust experiments suppressed evidence of the link between asbestos exposure and cancer, and the final agreement between the asbestos conglomerate that funded the studies was that
“the reference to cancer and tumors should be deleted.” Unfortunately, then, information that would have been invaluable to American workers was instead buried and hidden from the public.
Sumner Simpson was the president of Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc. in the 1930s and 1940s. His correspondence with other corporate leaders in the asbestos industry demonstrates the industry’s many efforts to hide from the public evidence about the hazards of asbestos exposure.
For example, in 1935, Mr. Simpson wrote Vandiver Brown, attorney for Johns-Manville Corporation, that:
“the less said about asbestos, the better off we [the asbestos industry] are.”
Companies such as Raybestos-Manhattan and individuals such as Mr. Simpson also placed a great deal of pressure on trade industry publications, including Asbestos Magazine. Letters from Asbestos Magazine to Mr. Simpson document the magazine’s acquiescence to Mr. Simpson’s request that the magazine publish nothing about the dangers of asbestos.
In 1939, the publisher of Asbestos Magazine wrote in a letter to Sumner Simpson,
“You may see all 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…”
In a letter from Johns-Manville Corporation to Mr. Simpson in 1941, Johns-Manville corporate officer Vandiver Brown demonstrated the cavalier attitude of the asbestos industry and the complete lack of concern for its workers when he wrote,
“I felt there was considerable likelihood that a number of subscribers would dislike an article on this subject in the trade magazine of the asbestos industry. I had in mind the ostrich-like attitude which has been evidenced from time to time by members of the industry.”
The industry cover-up continued when the Saranac Laboratory tested the dust from the Owens-Illinois thermal insulation product called “Kaylo.” The Saranac Lab reported to Owens-Illinois in 1948 that Kaylo was capable of causing asbestosis and should be treated as a hazardous industrial dust. Unfortunately, Owens-Illinois chose not to share with its customers or the public the health hazards Kaylo posed.
These are just a sampling of the almost endless line of documents revealing the callous attitude of American industry toward asbestos dangers and its conscious disregard for the lives, health and safety of the American worker. The asbestos industry’s unconscionable attitude is perhaps most chillingly described in a September 12, 1966 document by E.A. Martin, Director of Purchases for Bendix Corporation:
“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.”
The asbestos tragedy was preventable, had the asbestos industry acted responsibly to protect the health of the American worker. The unfortunate legacy of the asbestos industry’s actions is the public health crisis that continues to plague the U.S. in the 21st century.
The asbestos industry’s trade organizations produced a surprising array of periodicals, reports and other documents. Even in recent years, the international asbestos industry has been formally united through the Asbestos International Association, headquartered in London, with member firms from more than 30 countries. The larger industry trade groups published reports and formed committees that held conferences on such topics as industrial hygiene, workers’ compensation and warning labels. These manufacturer groups also sponsored research that in some cases was never published or even alluded to in the published literature.
One of the earliest asbestos trade organizations, the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, was founded in 1936 under the auspices of the Melon Institute by several large industrial companies. The Industrial Hygiene Foundation was promoted by industry as a “creature of industry” and the one institution upon which employers could rely completely for a sympathetic appreciation of their “view point.”
Other Major Asbestos Trade Organizations
- Asbestos Brake Lining Association
- Asbestos-Cement Pipe Producers Association
- Asbestos Cement Products Association
- Asbestos Information Association
- Asbestos International Association
- Asbestos Paper Manufacturers Association
- Asbestos Textile Institute
- Asbestosis Research Council
- Friction Materials Standards Institute
- Magnesia Insulation Manufacturers Association
- National Insulation Manufacturers Association
- Resilient Floor Covering Institute
- The Chemical Manufacturers Association
- The National Safety Council
- Thermal Insulation Manufacturers Association
There are many others. In all, over 100 such associations existed to serve the asbestos industry.
The earliest historical record of asbestos hazards dates back to the time of Christ. In modern times, as early as 1897 a Vienna physician noted that emaciation and pulmonary problems in asbestos weavers and their families left no doubt that the cause was asbestos inhalation. Also prior to the 1900s, women factory inspectors in Great Britain gave special attention to asbestos manufacturing processes because of known cases of lung damage among asbestos workers.
In 1906, Dr. H. Montague Murray reported a fatal case of asbestosis to a British Parliamentary committee on compensation. Dr. Murray’s patient had worked in the carding room of an asbestos textile plant and had died at the age of 33. The doctor attributed his patient’s death to lung damage caused by asbestos dust. This case is generally regarded as the first modern-day “proven” case of pulmonary disease from asbestos.
Not long after Dr. Murray’s report, the first detailed case report of asbestosis appearing in medical literature was authored by the British pathologist W.E. Cooke in 1924. The subject of Dr. Cook’s case report was the now famous Nellie Kershaw, who had worked for Turner Brothers Asbestos Company from the age of 13 through the age of 26, and intermittently thereafter, until she was totally disabled at the age of 31. Ms. Kershaw’s disability from asbestos exposure eventually caused her death. Dr. Cooke named the disease that killed her “pulmonary asbestosis.”
In 1930, Drs. E.R.A. Merewether and C.W. Price authored an historic report detailing their investigation of working conditions in Great Britain’s asbestos industry. Their recommendations included the control of exposure to dust in asbestos operations and regular medical examinations of plant workers. They also stressed the importance of worker education about the dangers of working with and around asbestos.
The attention the British paid asbestos hazards in 1930 also led to considerable attention to the problem in the United States. Around this same time, the first case reports of asbestosis in the United States were being widely published. Dr. Merewether’s findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — the most widely read medical journal in the United States — in June 1930. Soon, other articles and medical case reports about asbestosis appeared in the journal.
These revelations about asbestos-related lung conditions were not limited to the U.S. and Great Britain. The International Labor Office (ILO) held an international conference on dust diseases in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1930. This was the first of several major conferences held by the ILO, involving experts on dust-related lung diseases from all over the world.
Thus, by 1930, widespread knowledge of the hazards of asbestos was widely available to all companies and industries. From this point forward, the information these companies received about the dangers of asbestos from published medical and scientific literature grew exponentially.