The cobalt mining company at Modum in Norway had its own health service. The doctors kept records of all patient contacts. Recently discovered material from the 1822-32 period shows that gastrointestinal diseases, injuries and respiratory diseases made up the majority of patient contacts, in addition to unspecified infections.
The commercial exploitation of asbestos may be dated from the late 1870s, when Canada was the major world source. Reports of severe and fatal respiratory disease in workers in asbestos factories appeared in Britain (1898, 1906), and in France (1906) and Italy (1908). In 1912 the Canadian Department of Labour denied that the health of Quebec's millers and miners was affected. A series of denials appeared for over 40 years, until in 1955 a Thetford Mines medical officer reported finding that between 1945 and 1953, among some 4,000 asbestos workers 128 had asbestosis of various degrees of severity, 121 diagnosed radiographically, and 33 confirmed at autopsy. Although a committee of inquiry into health in the asbestos industry (1976), and a Royal Commission on health and safety arising in the use of asbestos in Ontario (1984) confirmed that disease had occurred, these findings were to have no adverse effects on asbestos exports. Rather, the inquiries constituted elements in the industry's successful public relations exercise that continues to operate to this day. Even when an increasing number of national bodies have legislated for total bans on asbestos use, a policy with which all the international bodies concerned with public health agree, the Canadian PR apparatus continues to be able to call on physicians and scientists prepared to oppose the consensuses reached by the independent advisors to these bodies.
BACKGROUND: Pollution from industry assumed new dimensions when large-scale industry and mining were established in Norway towards the end of the nineteenth century. The present article discusses how the local health administration responded to the first extensive industrial pollution of air and water. MATERIAL AND METHODS: Two chemical factories producing wood pulp and one abandoned nickel mine are studied by means of information from court records and municipal archives. RESULTS: New forms of large quantity pollutants and their great spreading capacity were not anticipated in the Health Act of 1860. The legislation at the time had ambiguous points which made it difficult to apply in cases of industrial pollution. One major problem was reliable documentation of adverse health effects. INTERPRETATION: Neither central nor local medical authorities had adequate competence to exert the professional influence required. In spite of this, local health commissions acted with considerable authority in the early 1890s. Within a few years, however, the health aspects were down-played because of the strong economic and political interests behind the new industries. The principal difficulties emerging in the 1890s with industrial pollution eventually lasted for nearly one hundred years.
Major Norwegian 19th-century mines had their own company physicians. Some of their reports and the mine sick-lists have been kept. From the Modum Blue Colour Works we have more than 80 such reports or sick-lists (each covering a four-week mining period) from 1823 to 1839. Of a total of 8,798 patients, 67 (0.8%) were diagnosed as suffering from odontalgia. The treatment was extraction or medication. Patients who underwent tooth extraction had fewer subsequent sick-days than those who were only given medication. Other registrated dental or oral disorders included dental abscess, caries, dental cancer with growth on the gums, thrush, dentition, dental fever and scorbutus.