Asbestos Industry Suppressed and Altered Medical Research

The asbestos industry repeatedly suppressed and altered the medical research that demonstrated the health risks of asbestos. More tragically, the industry covered up the research linking asbestos to cancer beginning in the 1930’s and continuing for decades. The following are three examples of how the asbestos industry hid, altered, and covered up the research about the health hazards of asbestos.

Suppressing Cancer Research at the Saranac Laboratory: 1936-1951

On November 20, 1936, Johns-Manville hired the Saranac Laboratory in upstate New York to do research on the hazards of asbestos. Johns-Manville wanted all results to be kept confidential, i.e., not available to workers or the public.

On February 24, 1943, after six years of work, Dr. LeRoy Gardner gave Johns-Manville the results of Saranac Laboratory’s asbestos research. Dr. Gardner’s findings spelled a potential disaster for the asbestos industry.

Asbestos a “Likely Carcinogen”

Dr. Gardner’s animal studies had revealed that asbestos was likely a carcinogen. The Saranac studies found an incidence of cancer as high as 81% in mice exposed to long asbestos fibers. The studies also confirmed what the asbestos industry already knew – that the supposedly “safe level” of asbestos (set at 4 million particles per cubic foot), was not low enough to prevent disease. Thus, Dr. Gardner informed Johns-Manville in early 1943 that “[t]he question of cancer susceptibility now seems more significant than I had previously imagined.”

Tragically for the public, the asbestos industry made sure that the Saranac Laboratory would never publish this evidence.

Dr. Gardner died on October 24, 1946. After considerable delay, Dr. Arthur J. Vorwald, the new Saranac director, finally presented Johns-Manville with a report of Dr. Garner’s findings on September 30, 1948. The draft report contained Dr. Gardner’s conclusion that asbestos was a likely cause of cancer.

The asbestos industry could not tolerate this conclusion. They decided that Dr. Gardner’s results would have to be suppressed. Johns-Manville called a meeting of the asbestos manufacturers on November 11, 1948, to discuss changes that needed to be made to the Saranac Laboratory report before it was published.

References to “Cancer” Removed From Research

The result of the November 11, 1948 meeting was a unanimous decision to get Dr. Vorwald to strike his discussion of cancer. All six copies of the draft report were collected, because the industry thought it would be embarrassing if anyone could compare the draft to the unpublished final version. The revised report was finally published in January 1951.

The published report falsely stated that it “presents for the first time a complete survey of the entire experimental investigation.” On the contrary, the published report only presented the evidence that Johns-Manville and the asbestos industry had approved for publication. The published report contained no reference to cancer, nor did it inform the public that the supposedly “safe” level of asbestos of four or five MPPCF was “probably unreliable.”

Johns-Manville gave this falsified report “a wide and adequate circulation,” thereby depriving workers and the public of vital information about the true hazards of asbestos. Dr. Gardner confirmed that the “safe level” of asbestos, then set at 4 million particles per cubic foot (MPPCF), was not low enough to prevent disease.

Suppressing Cancer Research at the Industrial Hygiene Foundation: 1956-1957

Industry’s efforts to suppress and alter research continued into the 1950’s.

On December 6, 1956, Dr. Daniel Braun, the medical director of the Industrial Hygiene Foundation (IHF), wrote a letter to the asbestos manufacturer Johns-Manville. Dr. Braun laid out in great detail the growing number of medical articles linking asbestos with lung cancer.

The IHF, despite its name, was an industry-funded group. Although the IHF compiled a great deal of information about the hazards of asbestos, it also conspired with asbestos manufacturers and helped them to suppress this vital public health information. Rather than expressing any concern about the evidence that Johns-Manville’s products could cause cancer, Dr. Braun simply promised Johns-Manville that the IHF would “continue to send ‘ammunition as we uncover it'”.

In late 1957, the IHF presented Johns-Manville and Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (Q.A.M.A.) with “An Epidemiologic Study of Lung Cancer in Asbestos Miners” by Dr. Braun and Dr. Walmer, dated September 1957. This study found a statistically significant association between asbestosis and lung cancer among Quebec asbestos miners. However, this report was labeled “Confidential” and restricted to 50 copies.

All References To “Cancer” Deleted from Research

On December 30, 1957, the medical director of Johns-Manville wrote to Ivan Sabourin, the attorney for Quebec Asbestos Mining Association, agreeing that “all references to the association of asbestosis and lung cancer” would have to be deleted:

While we believe this information is of great scientific value, we can understand the desire of the Q.A.M.A. to emphasize the exposure of the asbestos miner and not the cases of asbestosis … It must be recognized, however, that this report will be subjected to criticism when published because all other authors today correlate lung cancer and cases of asbestosis.

In June 1958, the Industrial Health Foundation published the Braun report with the falsified conclusion “that the asbestos miners in … Quebec do not have a significantly higher death rate from lung cancer than do comparable segments of the general population.”

Like the altered papers of Dr. LeRoy Gardner at Saranac Laboratories, this industry edited article misled workers and the public about the true dangers of cancer from Johns-Manville’s Canadian asbestos.

The Saranac Laboratory Animal Studies on Kaylo

During World War II, Owens-Illinois Glass Company (Owens-Illinois) developed a new asbestos insulation with the brand name “Kaylo”. Up until that time, most asbestos thermal insulation was 85% magnesia. Owens-Illinois developed a calcium silicate insulation with 12 to 15% asbestos. Owens-Illinois decided to test the effects that dust from its product would have on laboratory animals.

“Unmistaken Evidence that Kaylo Was Hazardous”

Unfortunately for the company, this research demonstrated that Kaylo asbestos dust could still cause lung disease. The research scientists at Saranac Laboratory fully informed Owens-Illinois that there was “unmistakable evidence” that Kaylo was hazardous.

Tragically, Owens-Illinois simply ignored the findings of its own medical researchers. Owens-Illinois neither warned its customers and employees that Kaylo could cause lung disease, nor did it take asbestos out of its Kaylo products. Instead, Owens-Illinois continued to produce asbestos-containing Kaylo for another decade, and then simply sold the Kaylo line to another company which continued to sell asbestos Kaylo until 1973.

The results of the Kaylo studies are documented in a series of letters that were found at the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, New York:

Letter No. 1

In a letter dated February 12, 1943 from U.E. Bowes, the Owens-Illinois Director of Research to Leroy U. Gardner, the Director of Saranac Laboratory, described the health hazards research he wanted:

“It should be considered from the standpoint of employees working in the plant where the material is made or where it may be sawed to desired dimensions and also considered from the standpoint of applicators or erectors at the point of use.”

Letter No. 2

On March 12, 1943, Dr. Gardner, the Director of Saranac Laboratory, wrote back to Mr. Bowes, the Owens-Illinois Director of Research, as follows:

“The fact that you are starting with a mixture of quartz and asbestos would certainly suggest that you have all the ingredients for a first-class hazard.”

Letter No. 3

On November 16, 1948, A.J. Vorwald, the new Director at Saranac Laboratory wrote to U.E. Bowes, the Owens-Illinois Director of Research:

“In animals sacrificed after more than 30 months of exposure to Kaylo dust unmistakable evidence of asbestosis has developed, showing that Kaylo on inhalation is capable of producing asbestosis and must be regarded as a potentially-hazardous material…

I realize that our findings regarding Kaylo are less favorable than anticipated. However, since Kaylo is capable of producing asbestosis, it is better to discover it now in animals rather than later in industrial workers. Thus, the company being forewarned, will be in a better position to institute adequate control measures for safeguarding exposed employees and protecting its own interests.”

No Health Warnings Given

Tragically, even after the company’s own research made it clear that Kaylo caused disease in animals, Owens-Illinois still sold its asbestos-containing Kaylo without any health warnings. In fact, Owens-Illinois later sold off its Kaylo line to Owens-Corning Fiberglass (OCF), which continued to sell asbestos-containing Kaylo until the OSHA ban in 1973. This callous decision put hundreds of thousands of American workers and their families at risk for asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos-containing Kaylo.