Regardless of the vast historical documentation
that exposure to asbestos causes serious health conditions, the toxic
mineral was heavily mined and processed into thousands of industrial and
domestic products for many decades. Beginning in the late-1800s,
commercial asbestos mines started operations across the globe. The
booming Industrial Revolution fostered immense innovation in the
application of asbestos, and the companies producing these products
began to see increasing profits. It didn’t take long for the asbestos
business to develop into a major industry, complete with soaring profit
margins, thousands of employees, and merciless CEOs.
Great Britain brought some
of the first medical advancements in asbestos-induced illness with the
discovery of asbestos fibers in an asbestos factory worker (1900) and
the first documented death of asbestosis in 1909. By 1917, American
physicians began to observe similar abnormalities in chest x-rays of
asbestos workers. These physicians also noted asbestos mills were among
the most hazardous industrial environments for dust of any industry.
The following year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published a
report that noted the unusually early deaths of asbestos workers.
In 1924, the prestigious
British Medical Journal began publishing medical papers on
asbestosis, which reported indisputable links between asbestos exposure,
cancer, and death. By the early-1930s, medical papers such as these
began to appear in the United States, much to the dismay of the big
asbestos industry. In an attempt to fight back, asbestos companies
began a campaign to suppress the truth about asbestos exposure. Using
power plays, closed-door deals, false evidence, bribery and more, the
asbestos industry created one of the biggest cover-ups in U.S. history.
For example, in 1932, the
chief of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and Occupational Health Clinic in
Oklahoma attempted to release results that 29 percent of Johns Manville
(one of the major asbestos companies) employees in contact with asbestos
demonstrated x-ray evidence of
asbestosis. However, the release of this report was put to a halt
by Johns Manville. Over the years, memos and documents revealing the
asbestos industry’s awareness of the dangers of their product emerged.
Case in point, a 1966 memo from the purchasing director of Bendix
Corporation (another large asbestos company) addressed to Canadian Johns
Manville states, “…if you have enjoyed a good life while working with
asbestos products why not die from it.”
Documents such as these
abound and have been extensively used in asbestos litigation to prove
the liability of the asbestos industry. Most U.S. citizens are under
the impression that asbestos use was banned in the late ’80s, but the
EWG Action Fund reports more than 29 million pounds of asbestos was
imported into the United States (for use in products) in 2001 alone. And
although asbestos mining in the United States reportedly ended in 2002,
scientific evidence contests otherwise.
Though two asbestos mines
near Richmond, Virginia have been shut down for some time, another
asbestos-contaminated mine lies nearby in Louisa, Va. Just like the
infamous asbestos-containing vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, this
vermiculite mine is also home to the highly toxic mineral. In 2000, the
Mine Safety and Health Administration was prompted to perform an
analysis of asbestos presence in the mine. Of the 30 air samples taken
where miners worked, ever sample revealed toxic levels of asbestos, and
the 12 ore and rock samples detected the presence of both tremolite and
actinolite asbestos. Seven of the latter samples proved very high
levels of asbestos are present in the mine, as several contained between
95 and 99 percent asbestos.
The Virginia Vermiculite
mine sells approximately 100,000 tons of the material each year. The
ore is then processed for use in hundreds of products that are
distributed throughout the United States. Even though the mining of
asbestos purportedly ended in 2002, this location continues to mine
asbestos-contaminated ore. Evidently, the asbestos cover-up has entered
a new phase in its ever-growing history.
With the end of the asbestos epidemic seeming so far from over, it is
important to be aware of the potential health effects of exposure to
asbestos. Contact with this toxic mineral can lead to a range of fatal
diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma cancer.
Asbestosis is a progressive lung disorder that begins with shortness of
breath and culminates in respiratory failure (and even has the potential
to develop into cancer).
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that attacks the body’s mesothelial
cells, which compose the internal linings of the lungs, heart, and
abdomen. In many patients,
mesothelioma treatment entails
palliative measures, as curative treatments seldom afford positive
results. According to the National Cancer Institute, asbestos
has also been linked to gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers as well.