Zonolite and risk

Originally Posted By: Caoimh?n P. Connell
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Good morning Mr. Hinsperger:

You post on zonolite was interesting. Actually, ?they? DID know back then what we know now. The hazards associated with asbestos have been known for literally millennia; the stuff we call ?asbestos? are naturally occurring materials and the health hazards of asbestos were described in detail in the first century AD by Pliny the Elder and again in 1556 by the German scholar, Agricola, and again in 1700 by Bernardo Ramazzini. There was nothing new about the knowledge that exposure to asbestos was potentially lethal. What has changed over the years is the human concept of risk and benefit. 2,000 years ago when slaves and prisoners worked the mines, and performed other dangerous jobs, it didn?t really matter to polite society as a whole that the slaves were dying off from white lung disease. And this concept carried over into modern day America. For example, if you asked 1,000 Americans what was the single greatest industrial disaster that ever struck the US, I?ll bet that less than one percent could correctly identify the Hawk?s Nest Tunnel disaster. That was the risk v. benefit analysis then, what about now?

Risks don?t change with the times, but the risk benefit equation does. Imagine for a moment, you are a young boy who was cured by what would now be considered an unacceptably dangerous (even irresponsible) drug, but it is now 1938. You have grown into a good man, an ethical man who is concerned with the welfare of your fellow man and a thoughtful and conscientious employer; a Captain of Industry. And you and the world have been watching a mad man named Hitler just annex Austria and the Sudetenland. Your country, who is concerned about the rising threat of Nazism in Germany has just commissioned you to build ships. It is your task to make those war ships as durable and as dependable as possible? after all your very own sons will be sailors on some of those ships. How safe will you make them? What kind of risk v. benefit analysis will you consciously perform vis-?-vis putting asbestos in those ships? Will you labour intently over the writings of some medical guy almost 2,000 years earlier as the Nazis advance on Poland and the Japanese get up to no good in the Pacific? I doubt it.

And now, imagine that you are that Son of that Captain of Industry who put the asbestos in ships; who survived the bombs and the gas and bullets of the war because your Father built some of the most dependable and reliable warships in the known world, and those ships kept you alive. Although, you have now developed asbestosis, you are happy to be alive since you have seen the horror of the war, (and the tremendous benefit it wrought with the destruction of Nazism and Japanese imperialism) You were a member of a team, who with the help of those asbestos laden warships liberated millions from death and misery. You have returned from WWII: bullets, bombs, phosgene gas, typhoid, unimaginable death and disease. Your father was spared death by the pioneering work of a French medical man, and having thus gained that benefit, you have followed that calling and become a important part of society, you are a medical doctor (who smokes cigarettes in spite of your asbestosis). Working at a hospital in Chicago along side some guy named Reese. You and he have the potential power to treat throat diseases with emerging ionizing radiation. Do you for a moment believe that X-rays are ?safe? or ?harmless?? Of course not, but what risk v. benefit analysis will you, as a responsible and conscientious MD perform? Think about it. Like Dr. Michael Reese you would probably accept the risk for the benefit.

Science doesn?t change, Mr. Hinsperger. Societal norms change. And with the changing norms, comes a change in what is considered acceptable and unacceptable risk. Zonolite brought benefit at acceptable risk.

Just my thoughts on the matter, but then, I think rain is wet, so what do I know, eh?

Caoimh?n P. Connell
Forensic Industrial Hygienist


(The opinions expressed here are exclusively my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect my professional opinion, opinion of my employer, agency, peers, or professional affiliates. The above post is for information only and does not reflect professional advice and is not intended to supercede the professional advice of others.)


Originally Posted By: mcyr
This post was automatically imported from our archived forum.


Hi. Mr. Connell,

I could not agree more with your assessment. I worked and install this product back in the 70’s and had no clue as to what I was working with.

Luckily, I am still here. Vermiculite was a popular product in the 70's and all we new was a mineral.

Vermiculite is a mineral, similar to mica, that, after being mined is milled into ore of various sizes and grades. The ore is then expanded by being heated and popped to produce a lightweight product that is used in industries such as construction, agriculture, horticulture, and wherever insulation is needed. The vermiculite, after being expanded, is shaped like small accordion-like pellets, usually gold-brown or metallic in color.

A large part of the vermiculite used in the United States came from a mine in Libby, Montana formerly owned by the Zonolite Company, now known as the W. R. Grace & Co.. This vermiculite mine was contaminated with fibrous amphibole asbestos in varying amounts.

A Court Deposition was issued on December 19, 1996, in Kalispell, Montana and stated claim of former employee; W.R.Grace secretly stashed money away to fund the anticipated health-related asbestos lawsuits against the company.

W. R. Grace obstructed efforts of Libby physician.

Makes you wonder, as to what products today we are working with, and how it will affect us in the next 20 years.

Have a good day.