The story of asbestos use and the harm it’s caused is both sad and maddening. It’s sad because so many people have suffered injuries and deaths due to its exposure. It’s maddening because much of it could’ve been avoided.
During decades of litigation and thousands of lawsuits, information about the asbestos industry covering up their knowledge that asbestos causes severe breathing problems, cancers, and mesotheliomas came to light. They put profit ahead of the health and safety of their own employees and those working with asbestos.
Companies involved with asbestos products knew they were dangerous and prevented this damaging information from being made public while denying that asbestos was a problem. It’s frightening to see how callous corporations can be when revenues and profits are at risk.
The Public Didn’t Know the Dangers of Asbestos, But the Asbestos Industry Did
About forty-five years ago, the lid on this information broke open for the public to see. Documents establishing corporate conspiracies were made public and were the subject of a Congressional investigation. The public was starting to grasp what a public health nightmare asbestos caused.
Erma Bombeck’s If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits? was the top-selling non-fiction book in 1978. The Oldsmobile Cutlass was the biggest-selling car in the US, and the hottest hit song was the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever.” Jimmy Carter was the US President.
It’s also the year The Washington Post wrote about how asbestos companies’ secret communications and internal directives were made public. About a thousand asbestos lawsuits were pending at the time. By 2002, according to the Rand Corporation, about 730,000 plaintiffs filed asbestos-related legal claims.
The newspaper reported that federal cancer experts that year linked asbestos to as much as 18 percent of all cancer cases expected in the upcoming two decades.
Damaging Testimony and a Paper Trail of Deceit
Documents going back to 1934 from two of the largest asbestos firms, Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan, described how senior executives suppressed information about the potential harm to workers.
Part of the documents are letters between Raybestos president Sumner Simpson and Johns-Manville attorney Vandiver Brown and those between Simpson and the trade publication Asbestos. During litigation, essential former employees provided critical testimony about companies’ disregard for safety.
- Damaging Information Wasn’t to be Published
One 1935 letter from an Asbestos editor asked Simpson’s permission to publish an article on asbestosis. Prior British studies showed asbestos was harmful to workers, but US firms played down the danger.
The editor stated that Brown requested that no articles about asbestosis be published, and the publication complied. Brown replied by writing, “(T)he less said about asbestos the better off we are…I quite agree with you that our interests are best served by having asbestosis receive a minimum of publicity.”
The industry spent thousands of dollars setting up research projects at a New York laboratory in the 1930s and 1940s but stopped researchers from publishing findings showing possible harm to humans by asbestos.
- Physician Told Company of Cancer Dangers and Warned It of Future Lawsuits
The Philip Carey Co. ignored warnings by Dr. Thomas Mancuso, their medical consultant, about asbestos’ danger and fired him after predicted lawsuits would be filed by asbestos-exposed workers.
Dr. Mancuso was hired in 1963 to investigate asbestos problems. He wrote an 11-page report stating that questions had been raised within the company over why the connection between asbestos and cancer wasn’t recognized earlier by the industry.
The epidemiologist stated the relationship was recognized, “…but the asbestos industry chose to ignore and deny their existence.” Dr. Mancuso suggested that the firm use warning labels on its products, but it failed to do so until 1969.
- Employees Had Asbestosis, But Their Employer Didn’t Tell Them
In a 1949 study, Dr. Kenneth Wallace Smith, Johns-Manville’s former medical director, who at the time was the head of the company’s Canadian medical department, stated that some of their workers had asbestosis but were not told. He noted the condition was “irreversible and permanent” and:
“Eventually, compensation will be paid to each of these men. But as long as a man is not disabled it is felt he should not be told of his condition so that he can live and work in peace and the company can benefit by his many years of experience.”
In 1976, Dr. Smith stated under oath in a deposition that he told company officials about asbestos’ dangers to asbestos insulation workers in 1952. He also admitted he had published scientific reports contradicting his private warnings to his employer.
Smith also said Johns-Manville medical officials in 1951 or 1952 suggested putting caution warnings on their products because of the danger to workers using them. Those warnings weren’t put on packaging until 1964.
Smith said Johns-Manville executives’ reaction to his warnings was:
“We know that we are producing disease in the employees who manufacture these products and there is no question in my mind that disease is being produced in non-JM employees who may use certain of these products.”
Johns-Manville maintained a policy of not informing employees that physical examinations showed signs of asbestosis, despite the company’s knowledge that the condition was progressive and fatal unless treated early until 1971.
Wilber Leslie Ruff, who managed Johns-Manville plants in New Jersey and California, testified in 1978 that asbestos diseases were “a sort of hush-hush condition” at Johns-Manville.
Get Boots on The Ground Working For You
Satterley & Kelley PLLC attorneys take action in asbestos exposure cases and help victims and their families however we can. You may have a valid compensation claim if diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. Contact us so we can discuss your case in a free initial consultation.
Call 855-385-9532 or contact us online today to schedule an appointment with the experienced mesothelioma attorneys at our firm.