Although it is no longer legal to use asbestos in the construction of buildings, it was once the standard. As a result, dating back to the late 19th century, many workers were exposed to the harmful substance and developed serious lung diseases. Journals were written by the 1920s that described the relationship between asbestos and asbestosis, a lung disease that resulted in extensive damage to the lungs that made it difficult to breathe and was occasionally fatal.
Even back in the 1920s, doctors said that limiting one’s exposure to asbestos could prevent people from developing the disease. Unfortunately, there were no laws or regulations for asbestos in the United States for decades. However, by the time the dangers of the substance were finally officially recognized, many workers developed cancer and other serious, chronic health conditions. It was too late for those individuals to have any hope.
Profits Over People’s Health
By the 1930s, scientists made a definitive connection in terms of the relationship with exposure to asbestos and lung cancer. Doctors also began to make strives in learning more about mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by continual asbestos exposure that destroyed the lining of the lungs. However, in spite of these findings, the asbestos industry began to thrive and expand. From around 1940 through 1980, the industry was employing over 200,000 workers and had boomed into the multi-billions of dollars. What really clinched the industry’s success was the massive cover-up of the dangers of asbestos.
A Massive Cover-Up
Throughout the decades, more and more workers came down with these serious illnesses that were known to their employers. In spite of the knowledge of the lung diseases and cancers their employees developed after years of exposure to asbestos, the executives covered up the information. They failed to provide their workers with protective gear to prevent further illnesses while giving those already stricken with asbestos-related diseases money to keep them quiet.
However, nothing remains a secret forever. After a bit of time had passed, the sheer number of cover-ups become obvious. Initially, it became known when labor unions began to push for safer conditions for workers. In addition, there was also the discovery of documents known as the Sumner Simpson papers, which totaled a whopping 6,000 pages, that discussed a massive cover-up of the dangers of exposure to asbestos by executives in the industry. This cover-up spanned back to around 50 years by the time an attorney for an asbestos victim uncovered the documents in 1977. Ever since that fateful time, thousands more victims and their families have come forth to seek justice with the courts to make the companies pay.
Callous Attitudes and Innocent Lives Lost
The asbestos industry executives who took part in the massive cover-up of the dangers of exposure to the substance had little to no regard for the effects suffered by their workers. Johns Manville was one of the largest asbestos suppliers in the United States for 50 years from the 1920s through the 1970s. Charles H. Roemer recalled a meeting between executives of his onetime company Unarco and Johns Manville president Lewis Brown and his brother Vandiver, which occurred in the 1940s. He stated that managers of Unarco were “fools” for informing employees of the dangers of exposure to asbestos. Once Mr. Roemer asked the Johns Manville president if he would allow them to keep working until they died, Mr. Brown answered affirmatively, adding that his company saved “a lot of money that way.”
This is the callous attitude that has long been used by executives in the asbestos industry. In spite of all the years of numerous, proven scientific and medical studies proving that asbestos exposure has a direct relationship with serious, usually fatal, lung diseases and cancers, the cover-ups persisted for decades. Sadly, the companies could have informed their workers and the public alike and taken measures to protect them. Instead, profits proved to be more valuable than thousands of innocent lives.
Massive Lawsuits Against the Cover-Ups
Not surprisingly, even to this day, more and more lawsuits are arising as a result of the huge cover-ups of the dangers of asbestos exposure. While litigation can never bring back loved ones who are lost as a result of the travesty or make others healthy again, they serve to bring those who partook in the cover-ups to justice. While asbestos has not been completely banned in the United States, these lawsuits serve to help raise awareness of the dangers that still exist.