History of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma
Pp. 13-24 (12)
Scholars differ about the date when mesothelioma was discovered as a
discrete disease. There is dispute also about when a causal association between
mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos dust was established. On balance it appears that
the 1960s was the crucial decade in both respects. This was long after asbestos became
a mineral of commercial significance in the 1870s. It was also long after the
unequivocal discovery, in 1930, that inhalation of asbestos dust could cause the fatal
disease of asbestosis. Suggestions of an association between asbestos and mesothelioma
emerged in South Africa in the 1950s and by the mid-1960s a causal connection was
widely accepted. Protective measures were put in place in the United Kingdom, USA
and elsewhere. From the 1970s regulations were progressively tightened. Partial or total
bans were enacted and in the west asbestos use declined markedly. But for various
reasons mesothelioma remained a significant killer. In America, but not Europe, the
peak of the epidemic may have passed in the 1990s. The position is very different in
those parts of the world where asbestos is still mined and used but lack of data renders
calculation and prediction impossible. Finally, it is noted that mesothelioma may occur
in individuals with no exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos, canada, china, christopher sleggs, chrysotile, crocidolite,
donald hunter, edward merewether, health and safety executive, irving j. selikoff,
J.C. Wagner, new york academy of sciences, occupational safety and health
administration, paul marchand, richard doll, russia, south africa, william cooke.
Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford, Wolfson College, OX2 6UD, Oxford, United Kingdom.