Asbestos Industry History
The Asbestos Cover Up
Asbestos use became popular in the United States during the early 1900s. It was used in hundreds of applications for its strong insulating properties, as well as its fire and corrosion resistance. In addition, it was plentiful and inexpensive to mine - which translated into abundant profit for asbestos companies. Its primary uses included insulation for pipes, gaskets, protective clothing, nautical insulation, auto brake pads, and as insulative material for buildings.
However, evidence has existed for almost a century that linked asbestos exposure to respiratory illnesses. The first documented asbestos related death was in 1906, when an asbestos worker's autopsy revealed the case of death to be lung fibrosis. By the 1920s and 1930s, doctors had a good understanding of the hazards of asbestos exposure.
Around this same time, the asbestos industry began to take steps to protect their businesses. Asbestos trade associations were formed that funded scientific studies to prove that asbestos was safe. However, these studies backfired on the asbestos companies, as scientists found that asbestos was a highly toxic material. Their tests on laboratory animals showed that asbestos exposure could cause respiratory illness as well as cancer.
Instead of going public with the results and ceasing production, the asbestos companies instead chose to cover it up. The results of the studies were altered or destroyed to prevent profit losses. In addition, the indsutry then set about keeping the studies from reaching the public while continuing to sell cancer-causing asbestos. The asbestos industry even went so far as to buy out companies manufacturing non-asbestos based insulation to fuel their own profits. Eventually, through the efforts of some the scientists involved in the original studies, the government was warned of the risks of asbestos and began a campaign to stop its' use.