Intended for healthcare professionals


Morris Greenberg: occupational health specialist on a lifelong quest to make the world asbestos free

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: (Published 15 September 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n2265
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

In 1967 a young doctor, Morris Greenberg, noted that every surface in a London factory was covered in white asbestos dust. Workers without face masks were brushing the floor, churning up clouds of the so called “magic mineral,” unaware of the danger, even though one man was struggling to breathe. Ironically, he complained that his mask impeded his breathing.


Marking a turning point in Greenberg’s career, the Bermondsey visit fired his lifelong quest to make the world asbestos free, despite persistent government prevarication and formidable industrial opposition. Asbestos took Greenberg into a murky world of scientific deceit and political collusion, where victims of asbestosis and related diseases died in destitution while their bosses received honours and riches: asbestos was as wealth promoting as it was life threatening.

Greenberg was later acclaimed as one of the giants of occupational health, although he was feted more outside the UK than within it. He was also branded—a distinguished honour in itself—as a major trouble maker by the UK asbestos industry.

Formidable adversaries included Ralph Bateman (1910-96), former president of the Confederation of British Industry and chairman of Turner and Newall, which at one time ran the world’s largest asbestos factory. Bateman considered that asbestos could be sold “safely” in developing countries, where life expectancy was so low that people would …

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