History of Medicine
Asbestos was once known as the "magic mineral" due to its ability to withstand flames. Asbestos fibers are also extremely fine, resist the elements and chemicals, remain flexible under pressure, and have great powers to absorb and filter. Also the only mineral that can be woven into cloth, asbestos became widely popular as a building material in the late nineteenth century and has subsequently been used in the construction of factories, office buildings, schools, shipyards, and homes. It has been used in literally thousands of products such as toasters, dryers, and ironing boards. The first clear case of death due to asbestosis-the disease caused by the inhalation of the fine fibers and particles of asbestos-appeared in medical literature in the 1920s. In the 1930s, scientific articles linked asbestos to cancer and the first damage lawsuits were brought against asbestos manufacturers. Industry leaders subsequently denied the asbestos hazard for more than forty years. The result has been a national public health disaster of unparalleled magnitude. Over twenty million unsuspecting workers have been exposed to dangerously high levels of asbestos dust and it is suspected that millions will continue to suffer the ill effects for years to come. An advocacy group for asbestos victims created the posters below.
Two developments in the 1960s exposed the misconduct of asbestos manufacturers and made them accountable to some of their many victims. First, a group of pioneering epidemiological studies by Dr. Irving Selikoff during 1962 and 1963, on the health of asbestos insulation workers, provided firm evidence of the health threat posed by asbestos. Then, in 1965, changes in tort law made the sellers of all unreasonably dangerous products strictly liable to users and consumers unless their products carried adequate warning labels. In recent decades, these findings have laid the groundwork for thousands of lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers. This poster from the White Lung Association (WLA), a national network founded in 1979 to provide educational support and advocacy for asbestos victims and their families, uses the image of two people, whose lives have been affected by asbestos, as spokespersons for others seeking financial compensation for their exposure. The man is identified as an asbestos sufferer and former welder in the Brooklyn Navy Shipyard. The image of a man in a safety suit equipped with a ventilator is combined with the text to illustrate the seriousness of the asbestos threat. The poster also identifies a change in New York State Law in 1986 that extended the legal rights of exposure victims. A list of at-risk occupations is also provided.
This poster uses the images of a retired shipyard worker and a small child to illustrate the widespread effects of asbestos on health. Clutching young J. Alesandro Kendall in one arm and a hard hat bearing the union president's title and a sticker for "Solidarity Day" in the other, Paul Safchuck is identified as an asbestosis sufferer. The three generations in Alesandro's father's family were similarly exposed to toxic substances. The poster suggests only time will tell whether young Alesandro will develop asbestosis or asbestos-caused cancer. In the quote below the photo, Safchuck suggests that we can prevent future tragedies "by making the poisoners accountable for their crime through the courts." By proclaiming, "Justice today for better health tomorrow," the poster correlates the irresponsibility of the asbestos industry with the persistent threat to the health of future generations.