248218 A Case Study in Unethical Conduct of Physicians and Hygienists at a Shipyard

Wednesday, November 2, 2011: 10:56 AM

David Egilman, MD, MPH , Department of Family Medicine, Brown University, Attleboro, MA
Newport News Shipyard, in Newport News, Virginia, misrepresented the dangers of asbestos exposure to their workers from 1930 to the present. We describe what was known when about the risks, preventive measures and actual injuries to shipyard workers, their families and community residents. Beginning in 1930 information was available to the Newport News Shipyard concerning asbestos heath effects and control measures. The workers, however, were not told of the toxicity and dangers of asbestos at the shipyard, even after many of them and their family members had already contracted lung disease or mesothelioma. Physicians and Industrial Hygienists were aware of evidence of the grave effects of take home exposure and intentionally permitted these secondary exposures to occur. It was believed, by the management of the shipyard, that if the workers were told of the danger they would walk off the job, compromising the profits of the company and industry. Contrary to what they should have done, the management told the workers there was no danger from exposure and they could for example, “eat asbestos.” The workers subsequently often went home, covered in dust, exposing their families; Newport News, Virginia thus has one of the highest death rates of wives and children related to asbestos exposure in the country. Management intervened to prevent several industrial hygienists from informing workers of risks and control measures. They never went public with their concerns.

Learning Areas:
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Occupational health and safety

Learning Objectives:
• Describe the shipyard’s response to the knowledge of physicians and hygienist of the dangers of asbestos exposure • Discuss the duty of the shipyard to inform the workers of the dangers of asbestos • Demonstrate how supervisors and physicians at the shipyard withheld health and safety information from workers.including those diagnosed with asbestos diseases including mesothelioma and lung cancer • Evaluate the motives behind the shipyards actions in relation to providing their workers with accurate information regarding harmful levels of exposure to asbestos • Improve the awareness of the fact that the shipyard’s program of deception effectively reduced their production costs and increased profits with continuing impunity. • Analyze the externalized costs paid by the workers and their families in the form of deaths (eg. 54 household mesothelioma cases) and injuries and monetary losses (inability to work estimated by the company at 3 to 7 billion)

Keywords: Asbestos, Ethics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I have researched and published more than 12 articles in the peer-reviewed literature on asbestos, including the asbestos industries manipulation of scientific evidence. I am a practicing physician Board Certified in Preventative-Occupational Health. I have testified as an expert witness for plaintiffs and defendants in asbestos-related litigation, including in cases involving Newport News shipyard workers and residents.
Any relevant financial relationships? Yes

Name of Organization Clinical/Research Area Type of relationship
Plaintiffs and Defendants Asbestos Tort Action Testified at the request of plaintiffs and defendants in asbestos tort actions.

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.