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