News

Asbestos litigation update: Cape Asbestos documents uncovered

After much lobbying by UK law firms and interest groups, documents have been made publicly available which show that individuals who work with, or simply handle, boards produced by asbestos manufacturer Cape Asbestos, an equivalent of James Hardie, leads to heavier asbestos exposure than previously thought.

Our UK colleagues are hopeful that the public release of this information helps those diagnosed with an asbestos disease after exposure to a Cape Asbestos product more easily prove the likely cause of their disease.

To summarise key document findings, we provide the below detail from our colleagues:

  • Cape encouraged its American partner Johns-Manville to suppress information on the health risks of asbestos and in the late 1950s the idea of a warning label on Marinite sheets was dismissed because of concerns that it would affect profitability.

  • Cape’s in-house sampling data show significantly higher dust counts than Technical Data Note 13 (UK government guidance) levels, even when just handling Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB) trade name Asbestolux.

  • Cape compromised the Government’s regulatory response to asbestos by lobbying the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and succeeding in downgrading the regulation from a ‘no dust policy’ to a ‘maximum allowable concentration approach’. It then successfully lobbied to increase the proposed limits.

  • All the while, Cape adopted a policy of selectively sharing its sampling data with the BOHS, providing evidence of low dust counts and withholding the more damning surveys.

  • Cape lobbied the Government to water down the suggested approach to warning labels on AIB. Internal correspondence shows it campaigned to prevent other manufacturers from introducing warning labels on its own AIB/Asbestolux.

  • Cape provided misleading reassurance about the dangers of asbestos in its communications with the Government and the public, contrary to its own data as to dust counts and health risks of asbestos.

  • Despite the process by which the BOHS limits had been set, and the fact that they related to asbestosis, Cape engaged a public relations firm to publicly use the limits as a rebuttal against the risk of cancer/mesothelioma.

  • Cape publicly stated that there was no risk from handling AIB/Asbestolux, despite knowing the high dust counts in its own sampling data.

  • Cape continued to manufacture AIB/Asbestolux in 1980 contrary to defending court cases on the basis it had ceased manufacture in 1978.

We understand that the Forum are demanding a charitable donation of £10 million from Cape for medical research into mesothelioma.

Bree Knoester is an award-winning asbestos lawyer who has supported mesothelioma patients through litigation claims for many years. Bree and her team provide clients with precise and compassionate legal advice.