Keeping the Truth Out of ‘Asbestos’ Magazine

The asbestos manufactures were successful in keeping the “Asbestos” magazine from publishing information about the hazards of asbestos. Crucial health information was suppressed so that US workers did not learn of the health hazards of asbestos.

In the 1930s, Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan, were two leading asbestos insulation manufacturers. Johns-Manville (JM) owned asbestos mines in Canada. JM mined, milled and sold almost every conceivable type of asbestos insulation product. Raybestos-Manhattan concentrated mainly on manufacturing asbestos textiles and sold asbestos insulating cloth as well as brake lining materials. They were actively involved with an industry magazine that was titled, appropriately enough, Asbestos.

Three remarkable letters detail how these two companies successfully worked together to keep the Asbestos magazine from publishing any information about the hazards of asbestos in the United States. This crucial health information was suppressed even though numerous articles on asbestosis had already been published in Britain.

Letter No. 1

The first letter was dated February 25, 1935, from R.S. Rossiter, the editor of Asbestos magazine. It was addressed to Sumner Simpson, the President of Raybestos-Manhattan. The letter begins as follows:

You may recall that we have written you on several occasions concerning the publishing of information, or discussion of, asbestosis and the work which has been, and is being done to eliminate or at least reduce it.

Always, you have requested that for certain obvious reasons we publish nothing, and, naturally your wishes have been respected.

Possibly by this time however, the reasons for your objection to publicity on this subject may have been eliminated, and if so we would like very much to review the whole matter in “ASBESTOS”.

Letter No. 2

The next letter was dated October 1, 1935 from the President of Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc. to Vandiver Brown, the corporate attorney for Johns-Manville Corporation. This letter states:

Enclosed is a copy of a letter received from Ms. Rossiter of “Asbestos”.

As I see it personally, we would be just as well off to say nothing about it until our survey is complete. I think the less said about asbestos, the better off we are. But at the same time, we cannot lose track of the fact that there have been a number of articles on asbestos dust control and asbestosis in the British trade magazines. The magazine “Asbestos” is in business to publish articles affecting the trade and they have been very decent about not re-printing the English articles.

I shall be pleased to have your opinion in the matter.

Letter No. 3

The third letter is dated October 3, 1935. It is a reply from Vandiver Brown, the Johns-Manville corporate attorney, to the President of Raybestos-Manhattan. This letter states in its entirety:

I wish to acknowledge receipt of yours of October 1st enclosing copy of the September 25th letter from the editor of the magazine “ASBESTOS.” I quite agree with you that our interests are best served by having asbestosis receive the minimum of publicity. Even if we should eventually decide to raise no objection to the publication of an article on asbestosis in the magazine in question, I think we should warn the editors to use American data on the subject rather than English. Dr. Lanza has frequently remarked, to me personally, and in some of his papers, that the clinical picture presented in North American localities where there is an asbestos dust hazard is considerably milder than that reported in England and South Africa.

I believe the question raised by Ms. Rossiter might well be considered at the committee meeting scheduled for next Tuesday at which I understand both you and Mr. Judd will be present.