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Key developments in the history of asbestos

By The Virginian-Pilot, May 6, 2001

1879 - The world's first commercial asbestos mine opens in Thetford Mines, Quebec, and produces 300 metric tons.

1906 - Sixteen deaths from pulmonary fibrosis are reported in a French asbestos textile plant, prompting the wearing of respirators by workers and the use of exhaust ventilation systems.

1922 - A U.S. Navy medical bulletin includes asbestos work on a list of hazardous occupations and suggests that respirators be used in the workplace.

1927 - British pathologist W.E. Cooke gives the name asbestosis to a disease characterized by fibrosis of the lungs.

1930 - A British physician and a factory inspector publish a landmark article in a medical journal describing the clinical characteristics of asbestosis and recommending safety measures to protect workers. (Full image.)

1933 - Johns-Manville Corp., the nation's largest asbestos-products manufacturer, approves the confidential settlement of 11 claims brought by workers who had handled asbestos and claimed disabilities from lung disease.

1943 - The secretary of the Navy and the head of the U.S. Maritime Commission issue safety standards for asbestos workers in yards that build Navy ships. Enforcement is left to the yards.

1955 - American scientists establish an epidemiological link between asbestos and cancer.

1960 - Mesothelioma, a rare cancer, the only known cause of which is asbestos exposure, is reported to be rampant among asbestos miners in South Africa.

1964 - Johns-Manville places the first warning labels on some asbestos insulation products.

1966 - The first lawsuit alleging death or injury resulting from asbestos exposure is filed, in Beaumont, Texas.

1970 - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets the first federal standards for workplace exposure to asbestos. They become effective on April 28, 1971.

1973 - Dr. Irving Selikoff (pictured), director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Environmental Sciences Laboratory in New York, predicts during congressional testimony that 1 million Americans would die of work-related asbestos disease by 2000.

1975 - The government determines that asbestos is a major industrial health hazard, and the EPA bans its use in thermal insulation products.

1976 - Norfolk attorney Richard Glasser files the first asbestos product-liability lawsuit in Virginia, on behalf of Cedric Thornton (pictured), a shipyard worker who had died of mesothelioma. Soon, asbestos lawsuits are being filed by the thousands.

1978 - The Navy discloses that it has violated its own ban, which has been in effect since January 1973, on the use of asbestos insulation in the construction of new ships.

1980 - Articles in two medical journals note that the incidence of lung cancer and mesothelioma are unusually high in Hampton Roads and attribute the phenomenon to the region's large shipbuilding and ship-repair industry.

1988 - Selikoff releases results of a study at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard showing that nearly 80 percent of 142 workers examined had signs of asbestos disease. He had undertaken the study in 1984 and presented the results to the Navy, which didn't respond.

1991 - Faced with staggering numbers of asbestos lawsuits, the federal judiciary consolidates all suits filed in federal court. Under the plan, a judge in Philadelphia hears pretrial motions in all asbestos cases to reduce the judicial logjam.

2000 - On Jan. 2, former Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt Jr. (pictured) dies of mesothelioma at age 79. Zumwalt's story.

2001 - On April 2, W.R. Grace & Co. becomes the 27th major corporation and the sixth in 14 months to file for bankruptcy resulting from asbestos claims.


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