BOULDER, Colo. (Legal Newsline) - Businesses that asbestos lawsuits have destroyed, deformed and depleted for decades supplied much of the fiber in obedience to Navy rules for winning a war, a new research article shows.
Kara Franke and Dennis Paustenbach wrote in a paper for ChemRisk, a scientific consulting firm, that the government controlled asbestos as a critical raw material in World War II.
They wrote that "because of the economic importance of asbestos, and its perceived vital role in the war effort, the regulated community and the military held a broad belief that overly restrictive work standards should not be applied to this material."
They wrote that the exposure limit was "health protective but not unduly burdensome" on the Navy and contractors.
They wrote that the Navy required contractors to use it into the 1970s.
They declared it debatable whether the Navy or private businesses knew more about the hazards of asbestos and concluded that the Navy and businesses believed until 1970 that asbestos posed little risk if encapsulated in brakes and gaskets.
Inhalation Toxicology ran the article on Dec. 28, reviewing Navy knowledge through 1970.
Franke and Pastenbach wrote that the first documented case of lung disease associated with asbestos exposure was reported in 1907 and that more reports were published by the late 1920s, but they provided little information about work activities or particle concentrations.
"Often, these reports were complicated by the presence of tuberculosis, making it unclear whether the lung dysfunction was primarily caused by asbestos or by TB, or whether one disease had to precede the other," they wrote.
They wrote that in1935, a textbook stated that "sufficient exposure to dust of asbestos in anystage of its processing may cause asbestosis."
"By 1939, the Navy was recommending that exposure controls be used during asbestos handling," the report says.
They wrote that in 1941, a Navy doctor acknowledged a disease hazard among workers engaged in the manufacture of insulating covers for turbines, valves and flanges. The doctor suggested moistening the material, ventilating locally and sometimes wearing a respirator.
They wrote that in the same year, another Navy doctor wrote that "we are not protecting the men as we should."
"Although the Navy recognized asbestos as a genuine occupational hazard," the report says, "it remained very much in use, since the current belief was that it could be handled safely with proper training and instruction.
"Overall, the Navy was concerned about its need to use asbestos, and seemed to work diligently to educate and protect as many workers as feasible given the pressures it faced."
In 1943, the Navy recommended periodic medical examinations and in 1944, the Navy bureau of medicine and surgery reported danger from high dust concentration.
In 1945, a Navy doctor found a fairly serious dust risk at a shipyard and in 1946, the Navy X-rayed 1,074 pipe workers in shipyards and found three with asbestosis.
They wrote that authors of a report on the X-rays concluded that covering pipe was not a dangerous trade.
In 1952, regulators reduced the exposure limit and in 1955, a doctor found the average risk among certain asbestos workers employed more than 20 years was 10 times the risk in the general population.
In 1955, the Navy required annual X-rays for civilian asbestos workers. In 1958, a Navy safety handbook warned that "asbestos dust is injurious if inhaled," and recommended respirators.
In 1960, a doctor associated asbestos to mesothelioma. In 1964, a study of 632 workers found 45 died of lung or pleural cancer, a rate about seven times the general population.
In 1964, a shipyard study expressed concern for bystander exposure. That same year, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare recognized asbestosis as an occupational disease.
In 1968, the Washington Post reported that 350,000 shipyard workers face a serious occupational hazard from asbestos. The Navy responded that it was well aware of the hazard.
The report quoted a Navy statement that said, "Hazard control measures implemented by the shipyard medical departments and safety divisions are in accordance with accepted standards of industrial hygiene practice in the U. S."
They wrote that a 1968 study of 7,000 Puget Sound shipyard workers found 21 percent with lung abnormalities.
They wrote that in 1970, the field of occupational health entered a new phase with the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
They wrote that in 1971, the new agency promulgated rules for asbestos and more than 400 other substances and chemicals.
"The Navy and other government organizations continued to require using asbestos in hundreds of materials far into the 1970s, and later because of concern that other materials may not perform as well, and because of their belief that nearly any material could be handled safely if proper precautions were taken," they wrote.
As for gaskets, brakes and other products with encapsulated asbestos, they found neither the government nor manufacturers believed they posed a hazard to workers.
They wrote that after 1970, studies of encapsulated asbestos "gave the military and others a fair degree of confidence that if handled in a reasonably prudent manner, asbestos containing materials would not pose a significant increased health hazard."
They wrote by about 1990, the government and most manufacturers specified that no asbestos be present in virtually all the goods they sold or used.