Between 1978 and 1979, a woman by the name of Cecilia Florence Cosgrove ironed overalls at an industrial center in Scunthorpe, a small town in Lincolnshire, England. According to a report, Mrs. Cosgrove died on January 10th, 2015 of mesothelioma, a form of cancer specifically linked to asbestos. She was 73 at the time of her passing. According to a statement read by her son, Barrie Cosgrove, the steam press she used to iron the overalls contained particles of asbestos dust, as did the corrugated roof she worked under. The coroner reported that the cause of death was an “industrial disease.”
It took over 30 years for the asbestos to work on Mrs. Cosgrove’s system. This is not abnormal, as it can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years for asbestos fibers to develop in the mesothelium, a thin lining on the wall of the lungs, abdomen, chest or heart. Asbestos fibers are microscopically thin – hundreds of times thinner than human hair for instance – and thus can be easily inhaled.
A Brief History
Asbestos refers collectively to six fibrous minerals that are incredibly tough and fireproof. For most of the 20th century, US industries utilized asbestos in all kinds of products, including construction materials like cement, tiles, stucco, plaster, roof shingles and siding. And during WWII the US Military required ships to use asbestos. Eventually, by the 1970s, household products like hair dryers and cigarettes also contained asbestos.
It wasn’t until the latter part of the twentieth century that numerous internal documents began to surface, showing that companies had known for a long time that asbestos was linked to mesothelioma and other diseases. One such internal document was released as a memo in June 1973 at a meeting of the Asbestos Textile Institute. The memo said, ‘”Our prediction is that approximately 25,000 past and present employees in the asbestos industry have died or will eventually die of asbestos-related disease.” It continued on a “positive” note: “And the good news is that despite all the negative articles on asbestos-health that have appeared in the press over the past half-dozen years, very few people have been paying attention.”
The Much Needed Ban
As Tara Haelle pointed out, the Toxic Substances Control Act bans the use of asbestos in many paper and flooring products, but the US is still one of the (approximately) 100 countries that hasn’t completely banned the substance, as it’s currently being used in 18 or so products. The lack of a ban is alarming given the fact that deaths from mesothelioma increased between 1999 and 2015, going from 2,479 to 2,597 deaths.
It’s also deeply concerning that the US government has done nothing to allay consumers’ fears, given that researchers at the CDC have called for a full ban, saying, “Although most deaths from malignant mesothelioma in the United States are the result of exposures to asbestos 20–40 years prior, new cases might result from occupational exposure to asbestos fibers during maintenance activities, demolition and remediation of existing asbestos in structures.”
The lack of a full ban is compounded by the House’s passing of The Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017, which among other things, would force asbestos victims to make their private information public, purportedly to reduce “double-dipping,” according to businessinsurance.com. The Senate has yet to vote on either bill.
In addition to the 18 products known to have asbestos in them, the Environmental Protection Agency has listed the many places where the substance can be found. For more information on mesothelioma, click on this page or visit the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute.