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Why Did Asbestos Become Popular?

The first case of asbestos-related disease in the lungs was detected in 1899. This was 20 years after the commercial production of asbestos insulation began. By 1935, the first case of asbestosis and lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure was diagnosed. With all the harmful effects of asbestos, you might wonder what the appeal was and why it became so popular.

It is believed that asbestos has been used since 4000 BC. Around 755 AD, they were commonly used to make false relics since their fire resistance was seen as miraculous. King Charlemagne of France had an asbestos tablecloth he would set on fire to impress his guests.

The Early Use of Asbestos

Archeologists uncovered asbestos fibers dating back to the Stone Age, around 750,000 years ago. It is believed that back in 4000 BC, asbestos fibers were used for wicks in lamps and candles.

Since asbestos was naturally occurring in every region, they were widely used over the years for various things.

  • Egyptians wrapped the bodies of their pharaohs with an asbestos cloth. This helped preserve their bodies and protected them from deterioration.
  • In Finland, clay pots contained asbestos fibers which helped give them form and strength. They were also resistant to fire.
  • Heredotus, a Greek historian, mentions that the dead were wrapped in asbestos before they were tossed in the fire to prevent the ashes from being mixed with those of the fire.
  • Romans have woven asbestos fibers into cloth and was sewn onto tablecloths and napkins. These cloths were cleaned with an open flame as they were fire retardant. They often came out whiter than when they were first cleaned.

The Greeks and Romans have used asbestos extensively. Because of this, they were also able to identify harmful effects related to the use. As documented, those who mined the silken material from ancient stone quarries. Strabo, a Greek geographer, noted sickness of the lungs in slaves who weaved the asbestos in the cloth. It was eventually called the disease of slaves. In an attempt to protect the slave miners, a thin membrane from a goat’s bladder was used as a mask to prevent them from inhaling the fibers as they worked. (Source: Asbestos)

The Rising Popularity of Asbestos

King Charlemagne of France was quite famous in 755 for his use of asbestos at parties. He had a tablecloth made of asbestos, and he would set them on fire to impress his guests. Although he claimed they were meant as a safety precaution for accidental fires that might occur during feasts. Because of its fire-retardant property, asbestos was commonly woven into clothing to protect its wearer from a blazing flame. It was then known as the fabric which would not burn. By the 1800s, the Parisian Fire Brigade wore jackets and helmets made with asbestos.

By the late 1800s, the manufacturing of asbestos started. The Industrial Revolution helped sustain the growth of the industry. People began finding more practical and commercial uses for asbestos as it was resistant to chemicals, heat, water, and electricity. This made it an ideal insulator for various engines, machinery, motors, and buildings. (Source: Asbestos)

Asbestos Becoming A Health Hazard

An Austrian doctor identified pulmonary issues in one of his patients that he linked to inhalation of asbestos dust back in 1897. Another instance was on a report by an asbestos factory in the UK. The factory goes through routine inspection to protect the safety of their workers, but they were still able to identify widespread damage to the lungs because of the dusty of the asbestos mill.

Even with evidence of its dangers, people still use asbestos. To this day, asbestos remains legal to use in the United States. However, according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), over 60 countries have completely banned the use of this toxic mineral. (Source: Asbestos)

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