The asbestos coverup

When the World Trade Center was being built in 1973, Dr. Irving Selikoff, an expert on asbestosis and cancers caused by asbestos, was an outspoken critic of the wholesale spraying of the floors of the two structures with insulator containing copious quantities of asbestos for fire-proofing.  He knew the potential dangerous hazards of asbestos as did the asbestos industry.  Fortunately not all floors were insulated because New York City instituted a ban on the spraying of asbestos in the same year.  Fast forward almost 30 years when the plumes of dust rolled over lower Manhattan after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.  The brave souls that rushed to help survivors and participate in the cleanup along with the many people that lived and worked in the area were exposed to one of the most serious carcinogens ever documented – asbestos in its many forms.  One of the most deadly results of inhaling the tiny asbestos fibers that permeated the World Trade Center clouds is the nearly always fatal cancer mesothelioma (known to be caused only by asbestos).  Unfortunately, the cancer often shows up decades after exposure.  What many people do not realize is that asbestos has still not been banned in the United States even though the asbestos community has known internally since at least the 1930s that it was not only harmful but deadly.  The asbestos executives and their hired doctors promulgated a disinformation campaign that asbestos was and is harmless knowing full well that these claims were patently wrong1.

Selikoff first came to prominence in 1964 when he organized an international symposium on the “Biological Effects of Asbestos” through the New York Academy of Sciences.  Selikoff, through his position as the director of the Environmental Sciences Laboratory at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, was able to persuade the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators & Asbestos Workers union to provide him with workers’ medical profiles2.  He presented four papers at the conference on the results of his epidemiological studies of the union workers.  There was no mistaking his results — working with asbestos insulation caused an increase in death by 25 percent from not only mesothelioma but asbestosis, lung cancer and even cancers of the stomach, colon and rectum.  His independent research could not be buried by the asbestos industry as they had with their subsidized research, and Selikoff’s results were reported widely in the press.  Selikoff’s team even found that insulator workers who smoked were ninety times more likely to get some form of asbestos-related cancer than those workers that did not smoke.

I don’t want to appear sanctimonious, but the dangers due to asbestos Selikoff and others reported in 1964 should have caused the asbestos industry pause – maybe even force them to attempt to improve working conditions.  But as in other industries with similar threats, the asbestos executives circled the wagons and then went on the offensive.  The Asbestos Textile Institute’s lawyers (the asbsetos industry’s public relation’s arm to promote asbestos products) sent letters to the New York Academy of Sciences and Selikoff warning them about the impact of their “damaging and misleading news stories”.  Their smear campaigns began by attacking Selikoff’s medical credentials and the quality of his work.   For years, the asbestos industry stalked Selikoff and others at conferences and meetings attempting to undermine their work.   More details can be found in Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedle’s outstanding book entitled Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival.  

It is astounding the lengths the asbestos industry went to suppress information they deemed adverse and to circulate disinformation cranked out by their hired doctors and researchers.  Asbestos executives also turned to the largest public relations firm in the world – Hill & Knowlton – a sort of hit squad of lawyers with a ubiquitous presence in undermining science damaging to their clients which included Big Tobacco3.  But perhaps what can only be described as turpitude, the companies led the disinformation campaigns while laborers in a whole slew of industries from mining to textiles worked in deplorable conditions that caused sickness and death.  In the Libby mine in Montana, for example, not only was fibrous asbestos dust so thick in some areas of the open-pit mine it was hard for workers to see each other.  The dust blew into the nearby town causing asbestos illness and death to residents (the Libby mine was eventually closed due to the huge number of tort claims by families struck by illness and death related to the operations).  It was common for the industry to fire workers that developed asbestosis or cancer to avoid the appearance of illnesses related to asbestos.  When it became clear to the industry that mesothelioma was a serious public relations nightmare, their public relation’s machine went into full overdrive focusing on two strategies.  1) Reassuring people that asbestos-related diseases were caused only by the inhalation of large amounts of fiber dust over long periods of time (internal memorandums clearly show that the companies involved knew this was not true).  2) Foisting the argument on the public that mesothelioma was the result of blue asbestos and that other types of asbestos, such as chrysotile, were safe (once again, internal memorandums show that the companies knew this to be patently untrue).

The diagram below shows the world production numbers for asbestos from 1900 through 2015.  One might think that the asbestos industry would have been crippled by Selikopf’s research reported in 1964.  But production actually increased through the 1960s and went on increasing into the late 1970s before tort claims began to impact the industry.  But even today, worldwide production has not decreased below the early 1960s output due mostly to production in developing nations.  The diagram is a testimonial to the success of the asbestos industry’s ability to undermine solid scientific research with political clout and the financial resources to promote their agenda – asbestos is safe.  We have seen the same thing in many other industries like Big Tobacco with smoking and Exxon with global warming.  McCulloch and Tweedle make a salient point: “Put another way, nearly 80 per cent [sic] of world asbestos production in the twentieth century was produced after the world learned that asbestos could cause mesothelioma!”

Asbestos2Data from Virta4 for 1900 through 2003, Virta for 2004 through 2006 (consumption), and Statista for 2007 through 2015.

Imagine that you are the mayor of a small town dependent on tourism, and doctors in the village are reporting an outbreak of a bacterial disease that is killing 40 percent of those being infected.  You decide that reporting the disease to the CDC or WHO would harm the financial health of your town and you seek to suppress the seriousness of the outbreak.  You tell tourists they have nothing to worry about and chastise the local news affiliates by telling them they are acting hysterically and causing undue panic.  Would anyone deny that you are guilty of a serious criminal act?  This is essentially what the asbestos industry did over many decades, and yet no one in the asbestos industry has served a day jail time for their actions.  In fact, they were so successful in their disinformation campaign that even  today as mentioned above asbestos is not banned in the US even though cheap substitutes exist and asbestos has been banned in other industrial nations such as France and Britain.  I asked Dr. Jock McCulloch why and his response is telling: “There is no easy answer to your question nor to the adjacent one as to why 2 million tons of asbestos will be mined and used globally during 2016. One of the key factors has been the corporate corruption of the science (which began in the 1930s) and the other is the baleful behaviour of Canada at international forums- due in the main to federal/Quebec politics. And then there is Russia, its political climate and anti-western reflexes.”  Both Canada and Russia have been and are huge producers of asbestos and Canada with the help of scientists at McGill University funded by the asbestos industry (one of the reasons why scientists should remain independent in their research) has been instrumental in persuading other governments to act gingerly against asbestos interests.

Distressing research now shows that trivial exposure to asbestos can cause cancers.  The Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould died of cancer caused by asbestos fibers perhaps from asbestos within ceiling tiles.  Actor Steve McQueen died at the age 50 from mesothelioma probably from asbestos exposure when he worked in a break repair shop (breaks are lined with asbestos).   Many instances of cancer among family members of miners and other laborers in the asbestos industry have been attributed to exposure to asbestos fibers brought home on clothing.  I think about the lives destroyed by asbestos when I read the words of McCulloch and Tweedle:  “Central to the strategy was a policy of concealment and, at times, misinformation that often amounted to a conspiracy to continue selling asbestos fibre irrespective of the health risks.”  I might add that attempts to force the asbestos industry to warn their workers about the dangers of asbestos were averted.  And although most mining and manufacturing has moved out of industrialized nations, the developing world has picked up the slack — places like Swaziland where laborers have few protections and little legal recourse for compensation from asbestos illnesses.  Records through litigation have turned up showing that industry officials thought black workers were far less sophisticated than those in the US or Europe about hazards to their health and sought to take advantage of them.

Stephen_Jay_Gould_2015,_portrait_(unknown_date) Stephen Jay Gould Steve_McQueen_1959Steve McQueen

Sadly, the large asbestos companies (18 in all) were able to avoid paying thousands of tort claims in the US by declaring bankruptcy through Chapter 11.  Bankruptcy implies that a company is insolvent, but due to the Manville Amendment passed by Congress in 1994 to help the asbestos industry, companies only need to show that future liabilities exceed the assets of the company in order to declare bankruptcy.  The insurance companies pulled a similar “fast one” by shuttling liabilities into shell companies that also declared bankruptcy.   I am very much for free and open trade but companies should be held responsible for travesties, and the bankruptcy claims are tantamount to highway robbery in my humble opinion.  Many of those who lost out on benefits and claims were already on the edge of poverty from unemployment and the medical costs from their ailments.  I might also point out that the American taxpayer is the ultimate source of support to these workers and their families because the asbestos companies were able to weasel their way out of their responsibilities to their employees and/or those harmed by their products.  It may be important to remind the reader that it is estimated that between 15 to 35 million homes contain Libby asbestos as insulation.  Asbestos is a problem that is not going away quickly.

I understand that industries like asbestos employ a large number of people (at one time in the 1960s, more than 200,000 people worked in the asbestos industry) and many of these workers would have difficulties finding new jobs elsewhere if the industries were closed overnight.  But there are various steps that should be taken based on what we have learned from the asbestos travesty when future industries are found to be responsible for harm to their workers.  1) It should be a crime to purposely mislead the public and/or workers on safety issues of products.  This must include the purposeful undermining of peer-reviewed science.  The penalties should be stiff and include jail time.  Laws need to be enacted accordingly.  2) Workers and their families need to be informed of the dangers in clear language in order that they may decide whether they wish to take the risk of continued employment in the industry.   3) In cases like asbestos where it is clearly a dangerous hazard, the product should be phased out by substitution of other products and eventually banned.   4) Workers and those impacted by the product should be entitled to compensatory damages through the establishment of funds in negotiations with the government.  5) And finally, American companies should be prohibited from moving their operations to nations that have lax laws that permit workers to be exposed to the hazardous products.  If corporate America can’t police itself (and I don’t think they can based on the tales of woe involving tobacco, pesticides, global warming, etc.) the government must step in.

  1. McCulloch, J. and Tweedale, G. (2008) Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival: Oxford University Press
  2. Selikoff recruited Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond who had already published his landmark research on the link between smoking and lung cancer
  3. Oreskes, N. and Conway, E. M. (2010) Merchants of Doubt: Bloomsbury Press
  4. Virta, R. L. (2006) Worldwide Asbestos Supply and Consumption Trends from 1900 through 2003: USGS Circular 1298
35 replies
  1. TrevinTaylor97
    TrevinTaylor97 says:

    Hello Mr. Defant,

    I find your research on asbestos and its practical robbery of the Judicial System fascinating. All my life growing up, I always thought asbestos was an issue that was dealt with, because I’d always see adverts on the television stating the hazards of asbestos and how you could get compensation for the damages it has caused. That was my outlook on asbestos for the past 19 years, but after reading this article I now see the lengths at which the asbestos industry went to in order to make sure that nobody knew that asbestos was still being mass produced, and that the asbestos industry filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy to escape paying compensation for many legal cases of workers being seriously injured from the substance. I agree with your proposal that it should be illegal to mislead the public and spread lies about a clearly harmful and toxic product like the asbestos industry is doing. I like your likening it to a disease ravaging a village and killing 40% of them, and having the villagers be mislead into thinking that they’re safe, much like how the asbestos industry is misleading the public into thinking that asbestos isn’t a horribly toxic man-made monstrosity. It really puts the issue into perspective and allows a casual reader such as myself to visualize and put to scale the issue of asbestos being a toxic substance capable of causing mosothelioma, and causing a 25% increase in the deaths of workers working around the substance. But what I personally feel we need is a modern day Selikoff. Someone who can utilize the power of social media, and the internet to spread the word on this global cover-up.

  2. yuby1219
    yuby1219 says:

    Hello Mr. Defant,

    With all the publicity the dangers of asbestos exposure has had over the last few years, I was under the impression that they were no longer in use or that their use was illegal. I was surprised to read that not only are they not illegal, but they are still in use. I used to live in New York back when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. It was the most traumatizing experience of my life. In my case, I only experienced it from my home in Bronx far from the site and still felt the horrible effects of that tragedy. Unfortunately, I lost someone dear to me that day. I still have trouble dealing with what I experienced at that time. If this is how I still feel being from far from that location, I can only imagine the horror that firefighters and first responders had to deal with. It is a shame that because of the greed of the asbestos industry, these brave individuals now have to deal with the after-effects of asbestos exposure, in some cases, dying from it.

    To make matters worse, the asbestos industry was able to cover up and undermine the adverse effects of asbestos by hiring a public relations firm. Their level of corruption is such that they did this while laborers of different industries were working in deplorable conditions that caused sickness and death. Workers like the ones in the Libby mine in Montana for example. I strongly believe that due to the information currently available in regards to the dangers of asbestos exposure, that the government should permanently ban the use of this hazardous material. I also agree that the 5 steps you outline on the article should be implemented.

    Ismaira Chavez

  3. erinblood
    erinblood says:

    This article is aimed to shed light on the asbestos catastrophe presented globally, beginning with Dr. Irving Selikoff’s research in 1973 that proved asbestos is not only dangerous, but deadly. The article continues to convey that these large asbestos companies (18 in total) attempted and somewhat succeeded to cover up scientific findings that proved their product was giving industry workers and their families cancer of the lungs, stomach and even rectum and even resulting in death. These companies then tried to besmirch the name of these scientists and told the public that their product was in fact safe when they fully understood it is not. Many industry workers who worked with asbestos were fired after obtaining diseases from this product to avoid being sued and many families lost loved ones due to the deplorable regulations and malicious intentions of these asbestos companies. Truthful scientific findings and many deaths and illnesses were not enough to stop these companies as they outsourced to other countries with fewer restrictions, with countries such as Canada and Russia creating and supporting the distribution of this deadly substance. This dangerous substance must be put to an end and people currently working with it should be extensively aware of the damage It can and will cause.

  4. Fay Baldwin
    Fay Baldwin says:

    This article shows the effects of asbestos on the populations health and economy. Throughout the article Dr. Defant connects the power the asbestos industry has over the government and the reasons why there have not been changes made to the regulations such as those made in other countries. Dr. Irving Selikoff has known about the effects of asbestos and has worked very hard to bring the knowledge to our government and officials but has consistently been met with a brick wall due to the money and manpower the asbestos industry has invested in our government. Even after Dr. Selikoffs research was reported in the mid 1960s the use of asbestos continued to incline well into the coming decades as shown in the graph. Even with the growing number of cancer patients and the obvious link to asbestos for many types bust still no changes are made. The reasons to take care of and get rid of asbestos will keep on growing until some changes are made. There are many steps that need to be taken in order to ban this awful product but he first step is making the public realize it is actually still being used!

  5. brheun
    brheun says:

    This article had provided a lot of research about asbestos that I did not know before. Throughout the article, The Asbestos Coverup, this piece talks about the unjust acts industries will take in order to make their harmful substance feel safe. Asbestos is deadly in many forms, even inhaling little amounts that could later lead to a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Through there are many dangers that asbestos can cause, they are still legal in the United States. An expert on asbestosis, Dr. Irving Selikoff, knew the issues that would be caused when large applications of asbestos were used in parts of the World Trade Center for fire-proofing. Although many people throughout the asbestos community know how harmful this substance can be, they are being flaunted as if they are harmless.
    Throughout Selikoff’s life, he did much research, projects, and experiments to prove to that his research would be heard and not ignored. Within Selikoff’s research, he also discovered asbestos insulation caused an increase in death by 25 percent with 4 other types of cancer. This researched cause Dr. Selikoff to receive legal threats and personal attacks from the asbestos industry.
    Meanwhile, as consumers continued to be misled about the dangers of asbestos via the industry’s disinformation campaigns, the production continued to increase throughout the late 1970s. This is discussed in the second half of the article. It puts into perspective a two-edged sword scenario where on one hand the asbestos industry knows that their product is very harmful and could possibly lead to death while on the other hand dupes the public into believing that they have nothing to worry about. This industry blatantly knows the harm that this is causing people and could very well lead to death. Through false advertising, these industries show no signs of guilt.
    Research has proven that the exposure of asbestos causes cancer. With the asbestos companies being such a huge part of the construction business, the reality of this industry disappearing is close to nonexistent. Through jobs such as mining and manufacturing, the exposure to asbestos for these workers is unjust, especially without knowing the hazards to which these workers were being exposed. In order for a change to occur, a higher authority must step in or these companies will continue to evade the consequences of their actions.

    Brittany Heun

  6. gparnell
    gparnell says:


    This topic is near and dear to me, as I am a local fire fighter in central Florida. We receive notifications, almost daily, of fire fighters from the FDNY who are dying from asbestos exposure during the 9/11 attacks. Some states have “presumptive” cancer statutes, essentially claiming that any fire fighter who dies of specific types of cancer (lung cancer being one of them) is eligible for line-of-duty death benefits. Unfortunately, profits and politics have decided that FDNY firefighters are dying of lung cancers not related to asbestos exposure at the World Trade Center collapse. To your point, it is not monetarily convenient for the government or insurance companies to recognize that asbestos exposures are deadly. Many people are familiar with the statement that 343 firefighters died working the collapse at the World Trade Center in 2001. In reality, over 800 deaths of workers at the World Trade Center have been attributed to inhaling toxins during the recovery efforts (9/11 World Trade Center). Some legislation has been enacted by Congress that recognizes asbestos exposure, and several lawsuits are pending in which victims are seeking compensation for treatments related to exposure to the dust from the collapse (9/11 World Trade Center). Hopefully the use of asbestos will be completely eliminated in the US and around the world, and the other suitable replacements will be used instead.

    “9/11 World Trade Center: Asbestos Exposure Health Concerns.” Mesothelioma Center – Vital Services for Cancer Patients & Families. N.p., 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

    • gparnell
      gparnell says:

      This article begins with one of the most publicly witnessed asbestos exposures in modern time: the collapse of the World Trade Center. It details how minute fibers were inhaled, causing mesothelioma cancers in those exposed. The article relates, however, that these hazards were predicted by Dr. Irving Selikoff when the towers were being built. Dr. Selikoff held a symposium in 1964, telling the world how dangerous asbestos could actually be. The world did not listen, and asbestos production not only continued, but increased!

      After informing the world about the dangers of asbestos exposure, the lawyers began to play damage control for the asbestos industry. They would “suppress information”and “undermine science” to keep the wheels of their employers industry running.

      The article states that any other small town or organization would have pending criminal charges if any attempt was made to hide or misrepresent scientific data that could serve to save lives. But, because of the almighty dollar, the asbestos industry came out unscathed. These companies were able to avoid making payouts by filing bankruptcy, leaving those affected penniless, and very ill.

      And so, money, not the conviction of what is right and wrong, allows the asbestos industry to continue producing a product that has many more risks than benefits.

  7. Fay Baldwin
    Fay Baldwin says:

    Professor Defant,
    In this post you talk about asbestos and the cover up that has gone on and the effects it has had on the population. You begin the article by grabbing the readers attention with the reference back to 9/11. You then go on to talk about Dr. Selikoff and his work with trying to out the effects of asbestos and how because he was independently funded the asbestos industry could not try to cover it up. You then go on to compare the asbestos industry to other big industries that have had effects on the environment or peoples health but the reason nothing has changed is because they have such stock in the country so they are practically untouchable. The graph shown explains that the asbestos industry’s production continued to go up after 1964 when Dr. Selikoff came out about the effects. By creating the made up situation you show the situation from a different point of view deepening the understanding. Finally you wrap up the article by saying how things should change and what should to be done to make sure the asbestos industry begins to disappear a lot quicker!

  8. ttheal
    ttheal says:

    I was under the impression that asbestos was not in use anymore before reading this article. The lies spread by these big corporations (Tobacco, Oil, Asbestos) are repulsive and just illogical. Why ruin peoples lives and the environment as a whole over money? And the idea that they were keeping this archaic industry open because of the “jobs” they create is just bogus. The higher-ups don’t care about those people, and those jobs were literal death traps. It is just sad to read this article and see the amount of dirty money spent by corrupt businesses to spread doubts about science and pay off politicians to support their industries that kill and disenfranchise many. Transparency should be the goal of the common people to avoid present and future dangers by unethical industry.

    • ttheal
      ttheal says:

      In this article you discuss the Asbestos companies cover-up of the adverse affects of their product. You start it with the fact that the twin towers were sprayed with asbestos, leaving open the idea that those fumes were spread throughout the city after the collapse and could lead to an increase in mesothelioma in Manhattan. You also point out that scientists discovered the harmful effects of asbestos in the lungs back in 1964, yet asbestos production continued to increase after this revelation. Later in the article you discuss the possible legal actions we should take in order to prevent a future business like asbestos to commit amoral actions against people.

    • ttheal
      ttheal says:

      This article discusses the Asbestos companies cover-up of the adverse effects of their product. It starts with the fact that the twin towers were sprayed with asbestos, leaving open the idea that those fumes were spread throughout the city after the collapse and could lead to an increase in mesothelioma in Manhattan. It also points out that scientists discovered the harmful effects of asbestos in the lungs back in 1964, yet asbestos production continued to increase after this revelation. Dr. Selikoff was hounded by an industry that sought to disseminate truth from reality. This and more is discussed in the book mentioned, Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival. All the while asbestos miners and families in place like Libby, Montana continued to get sick and die of asbestos related diseases. It is shown that the asbestos industry knew about the effects of their product, as their attempts to spin the impending PR disaster with their arguments that “only large amount of asbestos harms” and that “only certain types of asbestos are harmful.” The graph in the article shows the effectiveness of this strategy, as asbestos production continued to see growth up to the late 1970s. In fact, the article reveals that asbestos production is continued heavily in developing nations around the world, and that is why production levels are still not below 1960s levels. The work of countries like Canada and Russia also helped prop up the asbestos industry, as these countries had and still have an added interest in their asbestos mines still being profitable. And while the evidence continues to pile up that asbestos is not only very toxic, but effective in harming humans in smaller and smaller doses, the developing world is continuing production. The adverse health effects will now effects people in countries like Swaziland, where valuable health information and services are unavailable. After all this, the asbestos companies struck up a deal with congress to enact the Manville Amendment, allowing them and their shell companies to file for bankruptcy without being insolvent, but simply proving that their “future liabilities” will outweigh their assets. Later the article discusses the possible legal actions we should take to prevent a future business like asbestos to commit amoral actions against people. It is suggested that laws should be created to make it a crime to mislead the public on issues of human safety. Workers should not be kept out in the dark about possible dangers to themselves and family, and dangerous, hazardous chemicals should be phased out of the marketplace in a way similar to the use of CFCs. The last point made is that American companies should not be allowed to ship production to countries with less restrictive laws to continue to make their harmful products. The author states that when the free market does not properly handle the use and distribution of toxic materials, the government should use their ability to regulate to protect the common people.

  9. Tony91
    Tony91 says:

    Hello Professor Defant,

    My name is Justin Brown and I would like to say that I found great interest in the blog entry. It grabbed my attention because every day apart of my job is to go over an Asbestos addendum. Every new resident that is moving into the apartment building where I work must know the hazards that may be brought on by Asbestos. I find in troubling that so many people that helped out during 9/11 are suffering from the effects of asbestos that was laid years ago in the construction of the World Trade Centers.
    In 1973 it did not seem as though much knowledge of asbestos was present. On the other hand Dr. Irving Selikoff had great knowledge of the effect that asbestos had on a person’s health. Good thing for him having a position in the Environmental Science Laboratory was able to educate those who were not aware of the damage that asbestos can do. Just like tobacco companies, even though it causes health issues the dollar signs are the bottom line. Amazingly even though it was very dangerous to use asbestos as insulator the industry increase in the 1970s. On the down fall, once the realization of the hazards the industry came to an end and many lost their jobs over night. Not only unemployed many developed mesothelioma, caused by asbestos.

  10. Justinantony
    Justinantony says:

    Hello Professor Defant,

    My name is Justin Brown and I would like to say that I found great interest in the blog entry. It grabbed my attention because every day apart of my job is to go over an Asbestos addendum. Every new resident that is moving into the apartment building where I work must know the hazards that may be brought on by Asbestos. I find in troubling that so many people that helped out during 9/11 are suffering from the effects of asbestos that was laid years ago in the construction of the World Trade Centers.

  11. Gabriel Nash
    Gabriel Nash says:

    It is rather common now to see commercials on television in regards to compensation due to exposure to asbestos, however I for one have not done my research on it, which in fact made this article that much more enlightening. The article covers the dangers of asbestos and tracks the progress as well as scandals that the entire industry has covered up over the last several decades. It is to be known as the sole cause of mesothelioma, a cancer with a minimal at best survival rate, that has stricken far too many workers in the asbestos industry. Dr. Selikoff’s research in the early 1960’s had shown just how toxic the industry was, and even with his findings, the asbestos industry tried to find every single angle that would invalidate his research in order to avoid any type of legal action. The industry, even after Selikoff’s findings came to light, continued to grow and grow. Even after the tragedy of 9/11, and asbestos from the collapsed buildings entered the air and effected all those who responded, it is still in use in the U.S.A. Professor Defant essentially wants to see those who participated in this criminal activity to be held accountable for their actions, as well as proper education on asbestos for everyone involved from here on out. More so than anything, like Britain and France, it should be time for a ban of asbestos in the United States.

  12. Nissly
    Nissly says:

    Professor Decant,
    I enjoyed reading this post. I have grown up hearing all this information you shared, and it sounds as if the big companies fed us lies. I am shocked to learn that asbestos is still present in building. I too believed it had been banished due to the knowledge of its dangers. It saddens me that many of these companies were able to get away without compensating those gravely affected by asbestos. I agree with your thoughts on what can be done from this point. There must be safe alternatives that can be used. I also think that keeping production here is obviously much better for our economy but also allows for more oversight and regulation.
    Thank you for sharing all this vital information exposing the truth about asbestos and the lies we’ve all been left to believe.

    Micah Nissly

    • Nissly
      Nissly says:

      I was shocked to learn that asbestos is still present in buildings. The causes to those responders who came to help with the clean-up on Septemeber 11th have been seen these many years later. One of those things that these brave men and women were breathing in were asbestos that had been placed in some floors of the towers for fire proofing. We have all been led to believe through marketing and campaigns designed to mold the truth that asbestos is only dangerous after long exposure and that it was only certain types of asbestos that causes health issues. These companies also went and smeared the name of Dr. Irving Selikoff and others speaking out against asbestos and their goal of informing the public of the true dangers. It blows my mind that even today asbestos still is used in the United States. We know that research has consistently shown the risks associated with asbestos, yet it is still used even though there are many alternatives. In addition to the many hazards their products have caused, those large asbestos companies were even eventually able to get out of any liability and out of paying for the damages that their products caused by claiming bankruptcy.
      I think your thoughts on what can be done from this point on are a good course of action. There are many safe and affordable alternatives that can be used, as you shared. I also think that keeping production here in the United States is not only much better for our economy but it also allows for more oversight and regulation. By doing this it takes out those countries that use questionable materials such as asbestos and many others.

  13. Angela
    Angela says:

    I’ve always heard about asbestos and mesothelioma but never really understood what it was. It is very worrisome that asbestos is still allowed to be used in the United States and other countries. Unfortunately, the people of New York in 2001 were all put at risk when the Twin Towers fell and caused a cloud of dust. This dust contained traces of asbestos which is dangerous when inhaled and can cause mesothelioma. What is surprising is that signs of this cancer can show up many years later. The asbestos industry has twisted scientific results and covered up the fact that asbestos causes cancer. This has affected the lives of many individuals ranging from those who live in houses with asbestos and those who work with it and their family members. The asbestos companies even declared bankruptcy to avoid tort claims for people who suffered side effects or death. I also agree that these companies should be held accountable. I do not understand why the government has not banned asbestos in the US if asbestos can be replaced with substitutes and we could avoid causing sickness and death.

  14. Fay Baldwin
    Fay Baldwin says:

    Professor Defant,
    I very much enjoyed reading your post. It was incredibly eye opening. My whole life I have heard about asbestos specifically concerning old buildings here in Sarasota, but I hadn’t realized how far and wide the damage has spread. After reading your entire article concerning the coverup of the asbestos industry I have now come to realize how awful this epidemic is and how blind the public is to it. My whole life I have heard a lot of the lies you were talking about such as how it can only effect you if you are exposed to large amounts. I also was under the impression that it hasn’t been manufactured for decades now. This article has truly been and eye opener and really makes me look at the government and industries surrounding us differently. Everyone is definitely not always acting in our best interest!

    • Fay Baldwin
      Fay Baldwin says:

      Professor Defant,
      In this article you talk about the effects asbestos can have on peoples health and the cover up that has gone on to continue to allow asbestos to be used. You begin the article by showing asbestos effect during 9/11. Throughout the article you continue to give the history of asbestos and statistics showing how it has effect people and how this effect has changed over time. A few time through the article you gave sort examples showing why it has not been banned from the united states showing how much large companies run the united states. You then close out the article my summarizing everything that was said and you state your opinion on how the United States should act next to make sure asbestos does not continue to kill.

  15. ashlika
    ashlika says:

    Hello Dr. Defant,
    This was quite an interesting read. I first came across the term asbestos as a teenager growing up in Guyana, SouthAmerica. Some schools in my hometown were being reconstructed with materials that were asbestos free. Since then I have read lightly about the detrimental effects however, I never realized this was linked to the horrible aftermath of World Trade Center. I too believe that the asbestos industry should have paid more attention to the health of these workers. It’s alarming to know that so much data on the detrimental effects of asbestos could have been ignored in exchange for financial gain. The results from the graph are even more staggering. Asbestos production has indeed not been reduced as one would have expected considering the data that was brought to light. Workers need compensation for the poor conditions that they were subjected to. Also, the case of asbestos causing cancer should be brought to light, not only in the US but in all countries where major asbestos companies dwell. Better policies need to be implemented in order to curb these acts that corporate America seems to be easily committing and then absconding from.

  16. Ilyana Adame
    Ilyana Adame says:

    Hello Professor Defant,

    This article grabbed my attention because it is all about asbestos. I have heard bits and pieces about what asbestos is and about how it’s bad for you but never bothered looking into it. I always thought “well if it’s so bad for everyone then it must be gone by now”, but I was wrong. Your article opened my eyes to the fact that the asbestos industry is still alive and lying to all of its consumers. Money is the only thing these companies focus on and I can’t believe they would go through such lengths just to make sure the public was blind to everything that was going on. Asbestos kills and all of the companies knew this. The fact that they would fire their workers as soon as finding out is just plain evil to me. They are making billions of dollars and they rather pay people to sweep it under the rug instead of helping those they misinformed and hurt.

  17. myrawright
    myrawright says:

    Good evening Professor Defant,
    Before this article I had no idea about what asbestos was and that it could be so harmful. This article really caught my attention as I was looking through your blogs and exploring the different ones. This is a very interesting and doleful topic since it still have not been banned in the United States. This just shows how much theses companies care more about money than the health and safety of the environment and other people. It really shocked me to see than even after the NY Academy of Science Conference came out with that article about effects of asbestos that the production spiked soon after. This is ridicoulos I think more awareness should be brought upon for this topic because this is important people are dying and contracting cancer because of the greediness of these companies. Like you said it might be difucult just to shut it down overnight but I really think the steps you listed about compensating the workers, them getting in trouble for misleading the public etc would really help with this issue.

  18. anduiza
    anduiza says:

    Hello Mr. Defant,

    I would like to begin with pointing out how great your “hook” was in this article. As I was scrolling, my eyes immediately read “World Trade Center…spraying of the floors of the two structures with insulator containing copious quantities of asbestos for fire-proofing” and I was automatically drawn to what the future contents of the article would be.

    Before reading this, asbestos and the harm/dangers were completely foreign to me. Having said that, you made it very clear and understandable. I was shocked to hear that the government withheld vital information from the people that could have been avoided and I would have to say that I completely agree with you: “It is astounding the lengths the asbestos industry went to suppress information they deemed adverse and to circulate disinformation cranked out by their hired doctors and researchers.”
    Your concluding paragraph was very strong and I really enjoyed how it ended with a strong statement: these are the steps that should be taken “based on what we have learned from the asbestos travesty when future industries are found to be responsible for harm to their workers”. Along with that you described each step one by one which was very clear and informative and then left it up to the government because let’s be real can America really police itself?

  19. Evonne Piazza
    Evonne Piazza says:

    Dear Dr. Defant,

    As a health science major, I have come across asbestos in my readings and the risk of disease it may cause to those exposed, but after reading this article I feel that I have learned much more that I could have from my previous readings. I was aware that asbestos has the potential to cause harm to those exposed but never knew how much the companies using this product were fighting to keep their industry going. It is sad to see how some companies would rather make a profit than keep others safe from potential illness. It was shocking to read that these companies “reassured people that asbestos-related diseases were caused only by the inhalation of large amounts of fiber dust over long periods of time” and that “mesothelioma was the result of blue asbestos and that other types of asbestos, such as chrysotile, were safe.” These statements were completely false and were put out in the media to make sure others were not making a connection between the recent mesothelioma diagnoses. It shows that these companies would say anything or go to any lengths to continue the asbestos industry. Considering that there are other materials that are equally as cost effective but are significantly much safer, I do not understand why a substance that has been clinically proven to be so dangerous to us would be continually fought for. In addition, I do not think it is fair for employees who work with asbestos to be blind-sighted about the effects it can cause to their health. I agree with you when you stated that the workers should at least be educated in the effects of asbestos and then let them decide if they wish to continue working with it. Overall, I found this to be a very enlightening article that I enjoyed reading about, for it has impacted and still continues to effect numerous people all over the world.

  20. Gift Chima
    Gift Chima says:

    Hello Professor Defant,

    Although I was completely unfamiliar with asbestos before reading this article, I am very aware on private companies/ organizations debunking peer-reviewed scientific research in order to promote their self interest. For example, I have been reading up on some articles about concussions and other other-post traumatic brain injuries caused by repeated head collisions and rough contact in American Football. It’s really disheartening to see the extent that the NFL has taken over the course of a decade to hide the serious and even fatal effects of head collisions and simply, lack of player safety in the sport. Of course, it is only humane to agree that we curtail the use of asbestos, and other harmful substances but we live in a world where immediate survival comes first and also in a world where greed and power is the one of the biggest motivators. This means that companies know that citizens need a job to keep food on the table, and therefore, they can exploit the needs of the citizens in order to gain profit and power. It is really sad that is the what the world has come to. I completely agree with the list of steps that you provided to how we can combat the use of dangerous substances like asbestos. I believe that completely eradicating asbestos is going to take a long time, but change is only going to be occur if we take little steps over that duration of time.

    • Gift Chima
      Gift Chima says:

      I also would like to point out that your article pointed out how difficult it is for small entities such as a group of scientist trying to go up against big cooperations such as the asbestos companies. It is shocking to me that these companies that are clearly lying to the public and putting the health of their workers at a complete risk. I find it difficult to understand how with the justice system that is in place in U.S, these companies can get away with false propaganda and even worse, false filing for bankruptcy. Well-done and peer-reviewed scientific research should be equal to hard facts when presented in the court of law, and the heads of the asbestos companies should clearly be harshly punished by the law not deceitfulness, and in-direct manslaughter. The aspect of your paper that I liked the most was how you actually came up with a plan to combat the problem. Your plan clearly outlined the steps that should be taken against the asbestos companies, the steps that should be taken to help those who have been affected by working with asbestos, and a way to remove and eventually remove the harmful asbestos from use. I think creating a plan is extremely important, because it is the first step to improving a situation and it gives people hope that something can actually be done to minimize its harmful effects.

  21. Elizabeth Gonzalez
    Elizabeth Gonzalez says:

    I agree that the asbestos companies should be held liable for the lives that the products claimed and the potential harm imposed on its workers. It is criminal that they are able to impact so many and that the industry continues to be in business. My father was in the Navy for several years. When diagnosed with lung cancer in 1994, they connected the cancer to asbestos exposure while working in the Navy. It’s easy to assume big business means more to the government than the lives of those who continue to work in the industry and those taken due to exposure.

  22. phthomas20
    phthomas20 says:

    Good afternoon Dr. Defant,

    I have just finished reading your article describing the serious health concerns that asbestos poses. When reading the article I was brought back to the place where I was seated when news broke of the attacks on the World Trade Centers, in a high school chemistry class. It made me also think about the reasons why I enlisted in the Marine Corp. It is strange now after learning of the presence of the harmful asbestos in the buildings that all I can think about is sorrow for those brave EMT’s, firemen, policemen, and even civilian people who rushed to danger to try an save American lives. I cannot believe this harmful substance is not only illegal to produce but currently under production being sold to this very day. While I do not know the fire retardation elements of asbestos, I do not believe them to be worth more than human life. What sickens me more is the fact that those companies that produce the item get off of the hook as far as paying damages. I really wish there were ways to make these companies feel the pain that those sick individuals feel. After learning none of the companies have paid damages or will pay due to the Manville Amendment, it makes me wonder what kind of lobbyists these companies have working form them.

    Thanks for the great read, really eye-opening.


    Philip Thomas

  23. courtney piccirilo
    courtney piccirilo says:

    This article on was very interesting to read seeing as one could say can fall under a government conspiracy. The fact that scientist are always discovering something new to provide evidence that is knowledgeable for citizens to know, like for instance in this article about asbestos Selikoff had warned people about the long-term effects of inhaling asbestos however the government and large industries that have lots of money such as these asbestos companies can afford to try and cover up the harmful warnings before they take a huge it in money. Such as in this article you had discussed these companies declared bankruptcy, which again as you stated only helping those who already have money and leaving the rest to hang out to dry.

  24. says:

    This blog had a lot of information about asbestos that I had not known. The effects of the asbestos dust after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and the warning by Dr. Selikoff that was ignored, are disturbing. The fact that his scientific research and papers about the dangers of mesothelioma and asbestos didn’t stop production but that production numbers increased, is startling. What’s even more difficult to understand is how research showing that even second hand or low exposure to the asbestos can cause many different cancers, can be pushed aside. The big lobbyists for the major asbestos companies have done quite a good job to keep the American people from finding out or believing the true facts uncovered by scientific research. It seems that, as in other cases, the poor, uneducated, or minority people are made to suffer with seemingly no recourse. By claiming bankruptcy these companies cannot be made to pay damages. As the blog states since asbestos was so widely used, for such a long time it’s a problem that will not go away any time soon.
    I totally agree that the actions by the asbestos companies, their lawyers, and lobbyists are egregious and there should be restitution to those harmed by their malicious acts. I also agree that since some of these big American corporations can’t police themselves, the government, on behalf of the people, since we are supposed to be living in a democracy, should step up and take action to stop further and prevent future abuses by these corporations.

    • Idalia
      Idalia says:

      Well said!! I found the article very interesting as well and amazing how these giant corporations were able to get away without having to pay restitution to all those that were harmed by asbestos even though research shows that trivial exposure to asbestos can cause cancers. United States need to put in place stricter laws on these companies that make this stuff and stop this type of abuse. It is in the best interest on society as a whole because the tax payers are stuck flipping the bill for those who are no longer able to work because of their illness and are unable to pay for their medical bills.

  25. ShaneAlbors
    ShaneAlbors says:

    Asbestos is a serious danger to humans and cannot be taken lightly. When I worked in construction we were extremely cautious when tearing things down and had to inspect each area for asbestos before working in it. It’s saddening how these companies blow the dangers of asbestos off and endanger human beings in order to profit. This reminds me of what companies are doing with genetically modified foods. Small studies are popping up indicating that the pesticides and herbicides used in growing these foods are causing harm to human beings. These companies are blowing the information off and deeming these foods safe when they may not be.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply