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The History of Conspiracy Theories Concerning Asbestos

The History of Conspiracy Theories Concerning Asbestos

Every year in Britain, thousands of people die as a consequence of being exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos. In spite of the huge number of recorded deaths and illnesses within the UK caused by the exposure to asbestos, the poisonous material was aggressively mined and distributed into countless manufactured and domestic items for many years.

Regardless of its many uses, asbestos remains a huge health risk, producing debilitating illnesses such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Fortunately, the perils of this lethal material are now more commonly recognised within the UK and most parts of the world. Today, the dangers of this material, referred to as ‘killer dust’ are widely publicised.

In 1999, the Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations act was finally signed with the full backing of the European Union, banning the use, creation and distribution of the deadly substance within the UK. However, with so many victims dying from asbestos poisoning, why did it take so long for the UK government to ban this deadly substance? The following article will help to answer this very question and shed some light on to the many conspiracy theories and cover up stories relating to asbestos.

Asbestos in Ancient Greece and Rome

As far back as 450 BC in Greece, the dangers of asbestos were wildly known. Although the Greeks and then later, the Romans, documented the indestructible, fire and heat resistant properties of asbestos, they also recognised the health problems experienced by workers mining the material from stone excavations. Famous Greek cartographer, Strabo, recorded slaves suffering from a “sickness of the lungs” after weaving asbestos into fabric. Likewise, Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, noted the “disease of slaves”, and documented the wide use of early respirators made from goat skins that would help safeguard the slaves from inhaling the poisonous asbestos fibres as they worked.

Asbestos in the Middle Ages and Beyond

In the year of 755 AD, King Charlemagne of France recognised the heat resistant properties of asbestos and ensured his tablecloths were made from the material to help protect them from accidently catching on fire, during his feasts. The popularity of the material throughout the kingdom was undeniable and soon the material was being used throughout Europe to make mats, clothes and even wicks for candles. Nonetheless, many slaves weaving the asbestos in to the fabrics and mats were reporting respiratory problems. French politician, Hilaire noted that many workers during this period were developing a “deadly cough” with many dying or becoming too sick to work. regrettably, an all too familiar pattern was emerging.

Industrial Revolution

It was not until many centuries later, during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that asbestos manufacturing reached global levels of mass production. As asbestos demand increased many mining factories sprung up overnight and created many wealthy businessmen. As the rich profited, the poor miners exposed to the asbestos became ill and suffered from severe health effects.

During the start of the 1900s asbestos manufacturing had become an even larger global Industry. Many women and children worked day and night in workhouses, weaving raw asbestos fibres, whilst men laboured away in the mines exposing themselves to toxic fibres. With many workers reporting breathing problems and illnesses, many either died or were quickly replaced, with the factory owners turning a blind eye and focusing on their profits rather than the health of their workers.

1900 Early Laws

With so many asbestos workers reporting illnesses, The Factory and Workshop Act was finally passed in 1901 offering a slight protection to workers exposed to the inhalation of asbestos fibres. Small measures were introduced to help reduce the workers’ exposure to the dust. Though many organisations that were financially benefitting from asbestos manufacturing, played down the health risks even after the Factory and Workshop Act was introduced. With the health of asbestos workers worsening with each decade, it wasn’t until 1929, that many leading Asbestos industry organisations requested Dr. Anthony Lanza, the secondary medical director at Metropolitan Life Insurance, to examine asbestos illnesses amid workers. Astonishingly, it has now been suggested that some asbestos organisations covered up the Dr. Lanza’s findings which displayed high levels of asbestos-associated diseases.


The cover up continued throughout the UK, Europe and America and in 1979. American federal Judge John A. MacKenzie concluded that in one specific case relating to an unfortunate gentleman, the manufacturers put a lethal risk of harm in the work environment, then allowed him unwittingly to confront the risk with tragic results, on a daily basis”.


Today, seventeen years after the UK government passed the Asbestos Regulations Act, the dangers of asbestos are no longer being ignored. For centuries, civilisations have known of the dangers caused by the toxic material. As demand grew many rich organisations and individuals tried their best to downplay the dangers of asbestos for fear of losing their wealth accumulated off the back of the poisonous chemical. At present, the world is more aware of the dangers caused by asbestos and today the UK proudly joins over forty other countries in banning the use of asbestos.


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