Utne excerpt: Twisting Lung Function Measurements Based on Race

UTNE Reader

Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to GeneticsOn March 25, 1999, the front page of the Baltimore Sun featured a startling headline, “Racial Basis for Asbestos Lawsuits? Owens Corning Seeks More Stringent Standards for Blacks.” According to the article, the American insulation manufacturer Owens Corning was engaged in another legal maneuver to limit disability claims. This time it would be more difficult for African Americans in Baltimore to qualify for compensation.

Home to former shipyards and Bethlehem Steel’s plant at Sparrow’s Point, Baltimore had been the site of endless legal wrangling in a massive lawsuit against asbestos manufacturers for decades. Over the years, lawyers for Owens Corning made numerous attempts to delay proceedings and many verdicts went against the defendants. But, invoking a racial basis for disability assessment represented a troubling twist in the legal landscape. How, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, could there be a racial basis for legal redress in the United States?

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