All About Asbestos

Asbestos has a long history of use in many different cultures. The history is quite diverse since it has been called a 'miracle' material and dubbed a horrible life altering substance. Its history of common use goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks and continues today. Unfortunately, there are some regions of the world where the mineral is still widely mined and used.

asbestosHistory shows that the ancient Greeks wove the flame resistant material into clothes and other textiles. This use continued into the Roman empire -- historians point out that Romans would clean their asbestos ladened textiles by throwing them into a fire.

Since it is flame resistant, all of the dirt and grime would burn off but the cloth would remain. Its use continued throughout the ages, serving in different capacities in textiles and even in armor during battle.

Asbestos And The Industrial Revolution

During the Industrial Revolution, factories began using the material as insulation for a number of different products. Since asbestos has extremely good fire retardant characteristics, it was used to line a huge number of building products such as roofing shingles and floor tiles. However, during the 1920s and 1930s, medical professionals began to notice that workers who spent a large amount of time working with it had a high risk of dying unnaturally young.

It took a few years before doctors realized that the tiny microscopic fibers from the material become airborne and are sucked into the lungs, causing significant damage and health problems which may lead to the development of mesothelioma.

In the mid 1930s, many North American companies paid out millions of dollars through numerous lawsuits in order to pay for the costs associated with injured workers. Many of these companies worked very hard to isolate asbestos related health issues from public knowledge and continued to use the material until the 1970s when the Environmental Protection Agency outlawed its use in the United States.

Worldwide Production and Usage

To this day, many developing nations continue to use asbestos in building materials despite the health risks that have been clearly outlined by the widespread restrictions around the world. It is mostly used in India, China and Russia to produce cement sheets used in the roofing and walls of many factories, homes and even schools.

Many areas around the world will likely continue the use of this mineral for years to come, but in many developed nations the focus has turned towards removal. Specially trained professionals can remove the hazardous material and dispose of it in landfill sites or put the product through a special recycling process.

When asbestos is heated to 1250 C, it is transformed into a non-hazardous silicate glass. This glass can then be used to make ceramic bricks or porcelain tiles.

The Legacy

Even though it is no longer used in the production of materials in most countries, you should still be wary of its presence in older wall panels, loft insulation, water tanks, decorative plaster, packing materials and even school blackboards.

If you believe that the material is present, you should contact a professional for disposal -- never try to get rid of asbestos yourself.