Asbestos refers to a group of minerals that are fibrous, insulative and fire-resident. These qualities made asbestos a desirable component of many products over the years. Some sources indicate asbestos was used even in ancient times. However, its use became much more popular in the Industrial Era. Now, most people recognize it as a toxic substance.
A variety of researchers helped the world understand the correlation between asbestos and diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. However, Dr. Irving Selikoff may be one of the most famous of these researchers. If he were still alive today, he would have celebrated his 105th birthday on January 15. Selikoff was born in New York in 1915 and died May 22, 1992, in New Jersey at age 77.
What did Selikoff’s asbestos research reveal?
Selikoff is known for the studies he conducted between the 1960s and 1980s on insulators in the New York City area. Through his research, Selikoff discovered that those who work with asbestos and smoke cigarettes have a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who do not. He also found that less than a week of work with asbestos could cause scarring in the lungs three decades later.
His research paved the way for additional studies, including those that proved asbestos increases someone’s odds of getting cancer even if he or she is a non-smoker. Selikoff’s research was recognized by awards from the American Public Health Association, the New York Academy of Sciences, Modern Medicine, the American Cancer Society and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
In addition to his research, Selikoff advocated for occupational safety and for workplace regulations to protect workers. He served as a consultant to the World Health Organization. He also helped those who work with asbestos to quit smoking cigarettes.
Selikoff was one of the first people to draw attention to the dangers of asbestos. Because of his studies and the studies that followed, numerous sick workers have been able to bring successful lawsuits against their employers and receive financial compensation that can help them and their families afford the may expenses that can come with asbestos-related illnesses.