The Use of Asbestos

Nowadays, everyone knows about the dangers of asbestos use. However, it may surprise you to find out that we have been using asbestos for thousands of years and are only now insisting on the safe use and handling of this material.

Use of Asbestos throughout History

Long ago, the ancients recognized the wonderful properties of asbestos which enabled it to become such a widespread product in our lives. The first civilization that was known to exploit the uses  of asbestos were the people of Finland, over 3,000 years ago. Sites have been excavated in these regions, where communities consisting of log cabins and homes had asbestos mixed among building materials. Also, it could be traced through fragments containing ceramic material as well.

Then the Egyptians used to embalm Pharaohs with asbestos, and also wove it into their clothes to make them last longer. The Persians also used asbestos with the embalming of their dead, and would import it from India to be used extensively among those of higher class that had recently passed on.

There are more extensive records of asbestos deriving from ancient Greece. Slaves wore clothing woven from asbestos, and in fact it was noted by clerics that these slaves would often go on to develop lung diseases, which we now know is caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. Greeks also used this fibre on the wicks of the eternal flames of the vestal virgins.

The Romans copied the Greeks in their use of asbestos in fabrics. It also worked on napkins, towels, tablecloths, and covers of the leading women of the time. The Roman use of asbestos in building materials was also initiated. Roman chroniclers noted that slaves working at asbestos quarries tended to die young.

Although there is no mention of asbestos in the explorations of Cook, Charlemagne, Drake and Marco Polo, asbestos became popular again at the time of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 19th century. With the creation of machines that were hot and could catch fire easily, asbestos was popularised as an excellent insulator. Millions of tons of asbestos were being used across Europe and America as a result of this industrial ‘race’.

Unfortunately, it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that people began to take note of the truly dangerous effects of asbestos. Therefore, it was banned for most uses. However, this was too late for many people due to diseases caused by asbestos, such as mesothelioma.

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