In 1933, the Johns-Manville Company settled with 11 former Manville employees, all of whom were sick and dying from exposure to Manville's lethal toxin, asbestos. As part of the settlement, the victims’ attorney was forced to sign a written promise that he would not “directly or indirectly participate in the bringing of new actions against the Corporation.” This fact did not come to light for more than 45 years. In the meantime, the company and the rest of the industry kept poisoning people, successfully avoiding lawsuits from other victims. Had the public known about this settlement, it is likely that the hazards of asbestos would have come to light decades earlier, and millions of Americans could have been spared illness or death. (See more in Paul Brodeur’s seminal book.) And the carnage continues. CDC statistics show that about 3,000 people still die every year in the United States from mesothelioma and asbestosis and some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 people per year.
Secrecy and deceit have always been a way of business for the asbestos industry. They still insist on confidentiality when settling lawsuits. They still fight banning asbestos in the United States and refuse to make public where asbestos is present, where it was used and where it is imported.
The industry has now set its sites on poor developing countries, where asbestos “is still going strong,” according to this Associated Press article. India, for example, is “the world's biggest asbestos importer” yet “the International Labor Organization … estimates 100,000 people die every year from workplace exposure, and experts believe thousands more die from exposure outside the workplace."
And as if things couldn’t get worse, you have people like Kanat Kapbayel of Kazakhstan's United Minerals, saying things like, “Chrysotile [asbestos] you can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner!”
But if you think Kazakhstan’s asbestos industry is any different than our own industry today, think again. In 2013, a federal judge in North Carolina – in his first and only asbestos case – decided to reduce by 90 percent the amount that asbestos-manufacturer Garlock Sealing Technologies owes more than 4,000 Navy service members and other victims who have or will die from mesothelioma. The judge said that some victims – including Navy veterans and their attorneys - “withheld evidence” from Garlock, an utterly perplexing finding since this information was already in Garlock’s possession. To support this ruling, however, the judge indicated substantial agreement with Garlock's assertion that chrysotile asbestos products do not cause asbestos disease.
Of course, as AP notes, “A vast majority of experts in science and medicine reject this. ‘A rigorous review of the epidemiological evidence confirms that all types of asbestos fiber are causally implicated in the development of various diseases and premature death,’ the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology said in a 2012 position statement.”
Indeed, federal agencies, impartial scientific research groups, judges and juries have repeatedly found that chrysotile asbestos is a significant cause of the asbestos diseases that kill and injure Americans and that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. The Occupational Safety & Heath Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), all find that chrysotile asbestos causes cancer and there is no safe level of exposure. Perhaps even more astounding, Garlock’s own Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s) state clearly that inhalation of airborne chrysotile fibers from its gaskets can cause “well-known long term effects of Asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.”
The judge in Garlock said he found “no probative value” in any of the above.
Indeed, that sort of "science-denial" will likely be on full display, along with a good deal of anti-victim double-speak, at tomorrow's House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust hearing on H.R. 526, called the FACT Act. As we noted earlier,
This bill would require asbestos trusts to disclose on a public web site private, confidential information about every asbestos claimant and their families, including their names, addresses, where they work, how much they make, some medical information, how much they received in compensation and the last four digits of their social security numbers. At the same time, as noted by an earlier New York Times editorial, the legislation does not ask the companies to do one thing to help the victims, or to disclose any information that could help a claimant with his or her case.
Alert the predators, con artists and unscrupulous businesses who will scour these victim sites for information. What a terrible thing to do to people who are probably going to die because the asbestos industry covered up the dangers of asbestos for over 50 years, and which still insist on secrecy today.