The First International Conference of Asbestos Information Bodies
On November 24, 1971, Edward Heath had been Prime Minister for 17 months, the number one UK record was the Theme from Shaft and the peak in global asbestos consumption was still six years away. This was the time when the First International Conference of Asbestos Information Bodies was held. The fact that it took place in London was not coincidental. UK asbestos companies had for many decades been at the forefront of the global asbestos industry and had pioneered many of the corporate techniques and marketing ploys which had proved to be so successful in increasing asbestos sales, co-opting governments and marginalizing calls for improved working conditions at sites where asbestos was processed and used. In addition, the Asbestos Information Committee, which organized the meeting, was based in the UK. With nine members, the UK delegation tied with Germany for the largest number of representatives; France had six, the Benelux countries had four and there were small numbers from the remaining seven counties. It is of relevance to note the name of Mr. A. Masteron-Smith from Hill & Knowlton (UK) Ltd. on the list of UK delegates. From the 1950s to the late 1960s, the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton had represented the interests of the U.S. tobacco industry. In 1967, T&N, the UK Asbestos Giant, hired the firm to combat and, if possible, to forestall adverse publicity [on asbestos].
The relatively small attendance only 35 delegates from 11 countries belied the importance of this meeting as shown by a 74-page report which was compiled. The fact that the second day of the conference November 25 was also Thanksgiving Day in the United States might explain why there just one U.S. delegate. As can be seen by the text of this report, what was presented during the two day-conference laid the groundwork for the global asbestos campaign which was to bring so much success to asbestos shareholders in the later part of the 20th century and so much death to people exposed to asbestos at work or at home. This document was obtained through the discovery process in the United States. Anyone interesting in understanding how a known carcinogen can be sold and used in the 21st century, would be well advised to read this report.
February 26, 2013