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What Was Asbestos Used For?

What is the interesting history surrounding the use of asbestos? Asbestos Removals Marlborough investigates the rise of this toxic fibre and the long history of this material.

It's not just about roofing and popcorn ceilings. Asbestos has a long and rich history around the globe — no wonder this once-hailed hero fibre managed to creep into nearly every industry and home worldwide.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral once regarded as a high-tech material that could be used in many different forms. It is composed of thin fibrous crystals and comes in five different types

  • Chrysotile (white)

  • Amosite (brown)

  • Crocidolite (blue)

  • Anthophyllite

  • Tremolite

  • Actinolite

With the most popular being white, brown, and blue asbestos.

What Was Asbestos Used For?

Many historians point to the use of asbestos in ancient Greek culture. Once discovered, this fibre was spun into cloth for many benefits. Known as 'amiantus,' which means 'resistance to fire' in Greek.

It is also suggested that ancient Romans also took advantage of this fibre, utilising it in candle wicks due to its fire-resistant qualities. While in Finland and other countries, it was used to strengthen clay pottery. News spread quickly about the many positive attributes asbestos contained and before too long it was commonly used for ceremonial purposes involving fire and other textiles.

Over the centuries, asbestos was discovered to be a primary material spun into many fire-resistant items such as tablecloths, clothing, and curtains. As popularity grew, in the 1700s and 1800s, items such as asbestos-containing gloves and capes were constructed to wow audiences while keeping their fire-loving actors safe. Over time asbestos was also utilised in book covers and even string.

Asbestos was a central component when the industrial boom hit and slowly leached its way into almost every industry on earth. The insulation and fire-resistant qualities made it perfect for construction, from fire-resistant paint to insulation for steam-pipes. This impressive performance did not miss the eye of those who deal with fire on a day-to-day basis, and it wasn't long before fire-proof clothing made from asbestos became a massive advantage for fire-fighters and military forces (and busy cooking mums with impressive kitchen gloves). By the early 1900s, asbestos was now used in everything from strengthening pipes to apparel and engine/brake parts.

When Did They Discover Asbestos Was Deadly?

Sadly, it was suspected that asbestos was the cause of many deaths and illnesses for many years. However, being considered a highly regarded textile and material, many governments were slow to react. Finally, in 1924, the first cases of asbestos-related illness were published in the British Medical Journal. This caused the government to instigate regulations on the dust created from exposure in the hope of protecting many factory workers.

Lung cancer and illness were rife by 1940, particularly among those families who worked in asbestos mines and asbestos industries. By 1950 many researchers were adamant that asbestos was the cause of the lung cancer known as Mesothelioma – however, this was not officially noted until the 1960s.

This mineral was still widely used and mined for many decades, causing an onslaught of death and sickness. By the 1970s, it was clear – asbestos was deadly. This prompted many governments to act, including the USA, which banned asbestos in some home materials, including wallboards and fireplaces. By 1989 this ban had expanded to new materials and called for schools to be carefully inspected and repaired.

Bans continued and still continue worldwide, and we are slowly seeing a massive decline in asbestos-containing materials - particularly new materials. But due to asbestos' durability, it is still hiding behind many buildings and constructed items.

Even though today asbestos is widely banned in many applications unsuspecting homeowners and DIY enthusiasts are still exposed to this deadly fibre. Once disturbed, it can release a barrage of deadly microscopic fibres and dust that can quickly enter the body. For this reason, homeowners must seek advice before undertaking any renovation or improvement project.

If you are worried about asbestos in your home or office, contact the team at Asbestos Removals Marlborough for more information.

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