A conclave of leading scientists working in mesothelioma research happens this month under the auspices of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (iMig). The 12th International Mesothelioma Interest Group Conference. The world’s premier medical congress on mesothelioma – will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21 – 24. We are proud to be the major financial supporter and also a participant in this important symposium.
This year’s iMig conference comes at a special time in the history of mesothelioma research. It coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first ever international asbestos conference held by the New York Academy of Sciences in October 1964.
That first conference and awareness of asbestos as a lethal health hazard came about primarily because of the pioneering efforts of one man, Dr. Irving Selikoff. His work is largely responsible for driving the regulation of asbestos today.
Although Dr. Selikoff was not the first to identify the connection between asbestos and cancer, he played a key role in publicizing the danger to workers. The results of his epidemiological research were so startling to him that he felt he needed to take action. His research is credited with having pressured the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to limit workplace exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos was widely used by American industries even though its dangerous health effects were already known. When a local asbestos workers union asked Dr. Selikoff to add their membership to his practice in Paterson, New Jersey, he noticed something that alarmed him. The asbestos workers were being diagnosed with lung disease and cancer at a much higher rate than his other patients and had cases of malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare cancer. Dr. Selikoff did more mesothelioma research on this with other workers, including shipyard workers. The results convinced him that asbestos was causing the workers’ fatal illnesses and made him determined to make sure that the dangers of asbestos would not be ignored.
In October 1964, Dr. Selikoff organized a conference on the “Biological Effects of Asbestos” through the New York Academy of Sciences. The conference was a turning point in public and scientific awareness of the hazards of asbestos. The discussions even included presentations showing that wives could develop mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos dust on their husband’s work clothes.
The asbestos industry and its lawyers did not take this threat to their industry lightly and retaliated with full fury in attacking Dr. Selikoff and his work. But he never backed down or gave up. The momentum started by the 1964 conference helped lead to asbestos losing popularity as an industrial material and its being banned for many types of uses. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Selikoff several times and I can tell you he was a nice guy.
Today as asbestos persists in the environment, we are proud to support both efforts to ban asbestos and research to cure mesothelioma.