March 4, 2004

Asbestos: Think Again: About this Report

"Asbestos: Think Again" has its origins in literally dozens of EWG investigations and projects on toxic substance exposure, control and regulation, a central topic of our organization for the past ten years. EWG is a 501(c)(3) organization related to EWG Action Fund. EWG's focus on asbestos originated six years ago in an EWG examination of data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on the major environmental exposure risks affecting American workers. Asbestos exposure and risk topped the list that emerged from that research, which was funded by The Joyce Foundation and formed the cornerstone of the analyses EWG Action Fund presents in this report on the ongoing epidemic, mainly among older, male workers, of asbestos-caused diseases. Research on the nature of those diseases, and their link to a 'body burden' of asbestos fibers, was supported by a number of foundations, principally The Beldon Fund, the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, the Jennifer Altman Fund, and the Rockefeller Family Foundation. Several of those foundations, along with The Winslow Foundation, supported the development of EWG's Chemical Industry Archives project, which enabled us to analyze and post online the damning internal documents from the asbestos industry and its insurers, and to examine the numerous flaws of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

None of those flaws is more disconcerting than the failed EPA effort to ban asbestos in the late 1980s. Of the dozens of case histories of industrial pollution that EWG has developed through the Archives over the past five years, none shocked or angered us more than the story of cold, calculating indifference to human life that emerges from the memos, correspondence and studies of the asbestos industries and their insurance companies.

"Asbestos: Think Again" would not have been possible without the financial, intellectual and material support of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA). A grant in the amount of $176,000 from ATLA to the EWG Action Fund in October 2003 supported the development of our mortality analyses and projections; document review; assessment of the special nature of asbestos company "bankruptcies"; the mapping of asbestos fatalities, litigation activity, shipments and exposure sites; and the design and publication of the report. While this support is modest in the context of investments in EWG toxics work made by other funders over more than a decade, it enabled us to put the most accurate numbers yet on the scope of the asbestos public health problem. While we might disagree with ATLA and some of its members on some aspects of public policy as it pertains to America's asbestos tragedy, we are deeply appreciative of this support.

Numerous lawyers, law firms and independent experts with intimate knowledge of asbestos litigation provided us with documents and expertise. In particular, this expertise enabled us to map, for the first time, the geographic distribution (though not the identity) of a portion of the 700,000 people nationwide who have resorted to legal action because they had no other avenue for obtaining relief for illness and death associated with asbestos exposure.

Richard Wiles, EWG's senior vice president, is the principal author and analyst for this investigation. EWG co-authors include analyst Brendan DeMelle; Arianne Callender, general counsel; Liz Moore, press secretary; Mike Casey, vice president for public affairs; Jane Houlihan, vice president for research; and Ken Cook, president. Former EWG staff members Dr. Kristina Thayer and Heather B. White, Esq., made major contributions to our research and analysis. Database and geographic information system analyses were prepared by Chris Campbell, vice president for information technology; Sean Gray, analyst; and Tim Greenleaf, director of interactive communications.

As with all of our work, EWG Action Fund alone is responsible for the contents of this report.