International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. 2008 Jan-Mar;14(1):57-66. [Link]

Greenberg M.

Division of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Department of Health, UK.


The commercial exploitation of asbestos may be dated from the late 1870s, when Canada was the major world source. Reports of severe and fatal respiratory disease in workers in asbestos factories appeared in Britain (1898, 1906), and in France (1906) and Italy (1908). In 1912 the Canadian Department of Labour denied that the health of Quebec’s millers and miners was affected. A series of denials appeared for over 40 years, until in 1955 a Thetford Mines medical officer reported finding that between 1945 and 1953, among some 4,000 asbestos workers 128 had asbestosis of various degrees of severity, 121 diagnosed radiographically, and 33 confirmed at autopsy. Although a committee of inquiry into health in the asbestos industry (1976), and a Royal Commission on health and safety arising in the use of asbestos in Ontario (1984) confirmed that disease had occurred, these findings were to have no adverse effects on asbestos exports. Rather, the inquiries constituted elements in the industry’s successful public relations exercise that continues to operate to this day. Even when an increasing number of national bodies have legislated for total bans on asbestos use, a policy with which all the international bodies concerned with public health agree, the Canadian PR apparatus continues to be able to call on physicians and scientists prepared to oppose the consensuses reached by the independent advisors to these bodies.