Dr. Morris Greenberg -- Remembrance
Dr. Morris Greenberg died peacefully on August 19, 2021. As UK Medical Inspector of Factories, he published a report of cases in the UK Mesothelioma Registry in 1974. In addition to cases with occupational asbestos exposure as short as 3 weeks, one case included was a man whose only identified exposure was spending just one day sawing up asbestos sheets to make a chicken coop.
In his work at the UK Factory Inspectorate, in publications continuing throughout his retirement, and in his willingness to be an activist and work with others for a world free of asbestos use, Morris Greenberg was an exemplar. He wrote many papers analyzing historical events and showing where the authorities and industry had failed to protect the workers. https://pubmed.ncbi.
In one paper, he recalled that London dock workers concerned about handling jute sacks of asbestos sought out the advice of renowned occupational health physician Donald Hunter in 1965. Though Hunter supported their concerns, they were later lulled by reassurances from the port doctor and then trade union doctor Robert Murray (who would later go on to bankrupt asbestos activist Alan Dalton with a libel suit and testify in defense of T&N against asbestos victims). Greenberg went on to show that the reassurances were not evidence-based and that existing data at the time and in decades since have shown that dockers were at increased risk of cancer.
In 1997, the WHO Regional Office for Europe circulated draft reports “Asbestos and Health” and “Asbestos in Buildings.” Dr. Richard Lemen, retired chief of the US National Institute of Occupational Health, raised concern that the reports were misleading and read like endorsements for using asbestos. As controversy grew, WHO turned to Morris Greenberg to advise on the matter. Though the “Asbestos and Health” report was modified by its author, Greenberg slammed the revision as containing elements unfitting in a WHO report. Further criticism by union leaders and scientists including former IARC Director Lorenzo Tomatis led WHO headquarters to halt the report’s distribution in 1999. A second edition of the report, much improved by the adoption of language from previous international reports, was published in 2000. The “Asbestos in Buildings” report, whose atrocious draft advised local authorities to “de-dramatize the problem,” was never issued by WHO.
In 2008, the Collegium Ramazzini had just met in Carpi, Italy, and the periodic review of the Rotterdam Convention was scheduled to take place immediately afterward at the FAO in Rome. Activists were coming to contest the opposition (by countries including Canada) to including chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of substances covered by the convention's “prior informed consent” duty. Scientists were needed to join the activists in trying to make a difference, where over 100 countries were represented. Morris Greenberg (who was about 80 then) and Colin Soskolne agreed to come down with me on the train and spend several days in Rome, in case anybody wanted to argue about the epidemiology of chrysotile asbestos. At one point, we joined a protest, holding large photographs of asbestos factory pollution in Asia. [Pictures attached]
Morris Greenberg was a kind and decent man as well as a distinguished public health worker.
A Fellow of the Collegium Ramazzini practically since its founding in 1982 by Dr. Irving Selikoff and Cesare Maltoni, Dr. Greenberg was remembered with great affection by his colleagues and activists. “A dear colleague and consummate gentleman” (Dr. Arthur Frank). “Wise, deeply committed, and very dedicated.” (Dr. Phil Landrigan, former President of the Collegium) “What a gentleman and scholar. His cryptic sense of humor and his advocacy for worker health and safety were from his heart. His contributions were many.” (Dr. Richard Lemen) “I remember his brilliant and biting wit, his scholarship and his human kindness. There won’t be another like him. Grace, scholarship and humanity don’t come along very often.” (Dr. Daniel Teitelbaum) "A real mensch." (Dr. David Egilman)
Asbestos activists reacted with deep sadness to the passing of Morris Greenberg. “He was such a wonderful man.” (Laurie Kazan-Allen, IBAS) “His great contributions to public health and to end the man-made asbestos disaster will be remembered forever.” (Linda Reinstein, ADAO) “His work was dedicated to occupational justice across the globe which is an inspiration for countries like India where environmental-occupational health doctors are rare to find and required infrastructure is almost non-existent.” (Gopal Krishna, BANI)
Morris Greenberg was also a great help to US lawyers representing asbestos victims, in their efforts to excavate the public health and corporate history of asbestos. Gary Dimuzio wrote: “Morris, gentle giant of public and occupational health was unquestionably one of the major figures in occupational health including asbestos since the 1960s, he always fought for the ‘little guy’ even at the potential expense of his own career. We all use his articles. Despite advancing age and a fairly serious stroke several years ago, Morris was always willing to provide insights or help find an article or document that only he could find, as recently as just a few weeks ago. He will be missed.”
Longtime US plaintiffs’ lawyer Conard Metcalf reacted, “ A great loss. An incredible and enduring and powerful voice for workers and their families and of course for the science.”
MORRIS GREENBERG was Ramazzini Award recipient and Ramazzini Lecturer for 2011. The Collegium Ramazzini issued this statement:
Morris Greenberg played a prominent role in occupational medicine in the United Kingdom over the past half century. As Former HM Inspector of Factories and Former Senior Medical Officer, Division of Toxicology and Environmental Health in the UK Department of Health, he fought the power of industry throughout his career, dedicating himself to the health, safety, and well-being of workers.
Occupational medicine had become an academic discipline in the United Kingdom after the Second World War under the aegis of a few Universities and of the Medical Research Council. By 1970, the 110,000 factories covered by the 1879 Act had increased to 379,000 factories and the number of inspectors to 560, including 19 medical specialists, yet there had been little change to the organization. Morris Greenberg participated in the realization of the Employment Medical Advisory Service Act of 1972, by which the Factory Inspectorate’s Medical Inspectors and some 1200 Appointed Factory Doctors were replaced by a national cadre of specialist physicians and nurses. The whole health and safety apparatus was radically transformed, and Morris Greenberg was a key contributor in the process.
The newly reinforced Employment Medical Advisory Service collaborated with a number of academic units. Morris Greenberg was nominated as a founding member of the Council of the Royal Society of Medicine Occupational Health Section. When a Faculty of Occupational Medicine was inaugurated in the Royal College of Physicians London, to supplement the existing Society of Occupational Medicine, Morris Greenberg was elected to Fellowship. To the existing Diplomas in Industrial Health, academic units added the Master of Science degree, and the College of Physicians provided several levels of diploma, as well as maintaining a register of accredited doctors.
After retirement, Morris Greenberg was at liberty to speak out against the changes of government whose budgetary restraints reversed much of the progress he had helped to construct. Occupational medicine, whether academic, corporate, or private, is now in an uncertain state. He asked a rhetorical question in a paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2002, The Rise and Fall of Occupational Medicine in the United Kingdom. “The first three quarters of the 20th century, before the golden age of Robens, threw up a number of UK worthies you would recognize as of international stature in the field of Occupational Medicine, including Oliver, Legge, Collis, Henry, Middleton, Merewether, Hunter, Schilling, and Gilson. After 25 years of Robens, how many academics can you call to mind who can match them? For that matter, how many academics have you come across prepared to alert politicians to Occupational Health problems, and to prick the consciences of the public?”
Indeed, it is Morris’ unique ability to “prick the conscience” of others that has made him such an invaluable member of the Collegium Ramazzini since 1983. His devotion to the Collegium Ramazzini and the ideals for which it stands has provided a model for the next generation of physicians, practitioners and crusaders dedicated to the protection of workers and their health.
PHILIP J. LANDRIGAN, M.D. President
MORANDO SOFFRITTI, M.D. Secretary General
Carpi, October 29, 2011