20 April 2009

Danger: Asbestos

By the 1950s there were 5000 men employed at the Johns-Manville plant. None of them ever saw a sign like this:

Johns-Manville had a reputation as an excellent company that cared about its employees, offering good wages and working conditions, and other benefits - including annual physicals and chest x-rays.

The problem was with the asbestos fibers which would cover workers and their clothing, and which would sometimes fall like snow in Manville. Once breathed into the lungs, the asbestos remained there permanently- causing lung scarring and cancer.

Beginning as early as the 1920s, Johns-Manville was aware of the health risks of asbestos - even going so far as to demand that a 1933 Met Life study of the issue be amended. They also withheld all of those x-rays from their employees.

As recounted in Jon Blackwell's excellent book Notorious New Jersey, Johns-Manville's director of Health rationalized keeping employees in the dark about their grave condition:

"As long as the man is not disabled it is felt that he should not be told of his condition so that he can live and work in peace and the Company can benefit from his many years of experience."

When the lawsuits began in the 1960s, company directors tried to argue that their knowledge of the dangers of asbestos was recent. Internal documents and correspondence proved otherwise.

When the president of the company was asked why he would let his employees "work until they dropped dead" rather than inform them of their condition, his reply was, "We save a lot of money that way".

1 comment:

  1. Isn’t it crazy that you can go to Lowes and walk over to the insulation aisle and be surrounded by Johns-Manville products? I hold my breath just in case. At least change the name. My basement has some JM fiberglass insulation in it and I’d love to replace it all with the pink stuff just for good measure! I don’t care if the current JM is the greatest company in the world today, for a company to keep their name is almost like them saying haha we lived longer than you did b/c you got cancer and died. There’s a small mom and pop hardware store in Manville. I doubt they sell JM products. Anyway, that’s my rant and the reason I try to go to Home Depot instead.