Winter Catch-Up 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Three journal articles dealing with the development of the asbestos industry and its responses to opposition by health professionals, legislators and anti-asbestos campaigners have appeared recently.

Shooting The Messenger: The Vilification of Irving J Selikoff, International Journal of Health Service. 2007;37(4):619-634

Authors Joch McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale expose the machinations used by the asbestos industry in its attempt to demonize Dr. Selikoff as a “media zealot who exaggerated the risks of asbestos on the back of bogus medical qualifications and flawed science.” Detailing a series of personal and professional attacks intended to undermine Selikoff's reputation and counter the significant impact of his warnings about the asbestos hazard to government, trade unions and the public, the authors conclude that: “The most serious criticisms usually more accurately describe his detractors than Selikoff himself.”


Science is not Sufficient: Irving J Selikoff and the Asbestos Tragedy, New Solutions. 2007;17(4):293-310 (also by Joch McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale)

Unprecedented access to the Selikoff archives at Mount Sinai Hospital enabled the researchers to shed light on many facets of Selikoff's working life including his relationship with trade unions, medical peers, asbestos companies and government representatives. Dr. Selikoff, said the authors:

“put achieving his key goals – work safety and reducing disease – ahead of any personal sense of distaste. He was able to recognize the achievements of others and he seems to have been free of the petty malice that is so common in Academe. His correspondence reveals a man who spoke to everyone in the same measured voice, with no profanity or bitterness. Overall, he was a pragmatist and not the man who destroyed an industry. His preferred method was to work from the inside to bring about change within a system, which (as he well knew) was marked by a grossly unequal power relationship between the American industry and labor.”


Amianto: una tragedia di lunga durata. Argomenti utili per una ricostruzione storica del fatti piu rilevanti (Asbestos: A long lasting tragedy. Useful considerations for a historical reconstruction of the most remarkable facts), Journal of Epidemiology & Prevention 2007;31(4):53-74

The author, Francesco Carnevale, divides his discussion of the history of global asbestos use, into phases:

Phase 1 (the “asbestosis” phase) – ended with the UK Asbestos Regulations of 1931 which imposed some preventive measures on the asbestosis textile industry.

Phase 2 (1931-1961) – the rapid commercialization of asbestos as a raw material which was indispensable for the industrialization process.

Phase 3 (1960-2000) – some regulation is imposed by developed countries and litigation for personal injuries begins.

Phase 4 (ongoing phase) – includes the substitution of asbestos by safer materials, public debate about compensation for the asbestos-injured, asbestos company bankruptcies and asbestos bans.

January 9, 2008



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