Asbestos has many uses due to its inherent properties. Asbestos is a very strong and durable material that is also very flexible. Asbestos has the ability to insulate because it does not conduct heat. Moreover, asbestos is relatively chemically unreactive. Due to these properties, asbestos has commercial value.
In ancient times, asbestos was used mostly as a novelty. For instance, Charlemagne had a tablecloth, made seemingly of asbestos, with which he would entertain dinner guests when ‘cleaning’ it by throwing it into the fireplace, where it would not be burnt. Asbestos’ fine fibrous crystals were also used as decoration or adornment of homes and even jewelry. Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and also Romans and Greeks used asbestos as funeral shroud to protect the bodies of their dead throughout time.
During the rise of industrialization, asbestos became more and more common. This was because there was a need for thermal insulation with many of the new technologies such as the steam engine and machines used for manufacturing. Asbestos use peaked in the 1950s, at which point it was being used in about 3 000 products.
The health effects of asbestos have been known for over a century but asbestos was such a versatile product that they were ignored for many years. As its health consequences began to become more noticeable, asbestos use waned with the push to ban the substance. However, today, asbestos is still used in the developing world and even in some developed countries like the United States where it is still not banned.
Asbestos’ contemporary uses include:
• Insulation around windows, gaskets, furnaces, pipes etc.
Asbestos fibres act as insulation to heat, electricity, and even sound. For this reason, asbestos was used to insulate homes, to insulate industrial products like furnaces and engines. It is also used as sealants around gaskets and windows in buildings and homes.
Asbestos had many military applications as a result of its insulating capabilities so many veterans were exposed and have developed asbestos-related diseases.
• Reinforcement for building products like tiles, cement, etc.
Asbestos is a very strong mineral that is used to reinforce products. Because of its durability, it is used in many building products such as ceiling and floor tiles, fireproof drywall, house siding, and cement products like cement sheet roofing.
• Fire resistant products like drywall, fabrics, etc.
Asbestos was used in fire blankets and outfits for firefighters to protect them from heat and flame. Asbestos was also used in housing materials as a way to ‘fireproof’ private homes and public buildings like schools, municipal buildings, and even hospitals.
Despite its health effects, asbestos was even marketed as a ‘miracle mineral’ that would save lives due to its inflammability. Instead, though, it takes lives due to its carcinogenicity.
• Making products like vehicle brakes, transmissions, and clutches more durable
Asbestos is also used in car manufacturing to make products like vehicle brakes, transmissions, and clutches last longer.
Asbestos in your home
Any home made before 2000 should be checked for asbestos before renovation occurs because distributing asbestos without taking necessary precautions can have dangerous health consequences for you or the contractor working in your home.
Asbestos Resource Center. (2013). History of Asbestos. Retrieved June 2013 from http://www.asbestosresource.com/history/.
The Mesothelioma Center. (2013). Mining & Manufacturing History Part II. Retrieved June 2013 from http://www.asbestos.com/asbestos/history/part-2.php.
Oracle Solutions. (2013). History of Asbestos. Retrieved June 2013 from http://www.oracleasbestos.com/history-of-asbestos/.
US Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). Where can I find asbestos? Retrieved June 2013 from http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos/learn-about-asbestos#find.
United States Department of the Interior. (ND). Asbestos: Geology, Mineralogy, Mining, and Uses. Retrieved June 2013 from http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2002/of02-149/of02-149.pdf.