The 4,500 Year Journey Between Asbestos Discovery and Its Banishment: Part Two

The dangers of asbestos have been visible for nearly 2000 years, so why did it take so long for it to be recognised as a toxic material. PAC Asbestos Surveys digs into the history of Asbestos from its discovery over 4,500 years ago to its eventual banishment in 1999. This is the second of a five-part blog series that we will be publishing over the next few weeks.

1930s – Regulations Introduced in the UK

Following Dr Merewether’s discovery of asbestosis, he and his research partner Dr C W Price published an industry report that demonstrated the extent of asbestosis occurring in workers who have been exposed to asbestos for just nine months. As a result of their discoveries, British asbestos factories put regulations in place that were designed to protect workers who were exposed to the material regularly. Unfortunately, these regulations did not extend to workers outside of these factories who installed or handled asbestos regularly.

1933 – Reports of Asbestosis in America

Just three years after the discovery of asbestosis in the UK, America saw its first report of an insulation worker having the disease. Although, it has been speculated that asbestosis was previously misdiagnosed as tuberculosis and other diseases with similar symptoms. This resulted in the first legal action taken by asbestos workers who had contracted the disease, as the Metropolitan Life Insurance company found asbestosis in almost 30% of workers at the Johns-Mansville asbestos factory which lead to settlements for 11 of their employees.

1934 – First Link Between Asbestos and Lung Cancer

Not a year later, there were reported cases of asbestosis and lung cancer in an asbestos factory. A majority of the affected workers had been working there less than six months while being exposed to asbestos. This is also when the first reports of workers getting asbestosis from exposure to its products, including boiler workers, custodians and insulators.

1942 – Cancer Risk Warnings Are Issued

Almost a decade after the link was first made between asbestos exposure and cancer, a new report came out suggesting that lung cancer in building trades workers is likely to be caused by exposure to asbestos. A noted occupational physician and first chief of the environmental cancer section of the National Cancer Institute, Dr W C Heuper, was the first to link asbestos with asbestosis and cancer from exposure to asbestos manufacturing and handling the finished products like insulation. Later, in 1949, he would warn that asbestos put the general population at risk following over 200 references in widely available literature about the link between asbestos and disease.

1943 – First Mesothelioma-Like Tumour Reported

Just one year after cancer warnings were issued by Dr W C Heuper, the very first case of a mesothelioma-like tumour was reported by a German doctor, Dr Welder, while conducting an asbestos-related study.