Most people know that the group of naturally occurring minerals commonly referred to as asbestos can be dangerous. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to respiratory inflammation and mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer). Being familiar with the dangers of asbestos causes many people to overlook the origins of these minerals for use in construction.
The next time you are wondering how asbestos found its way into many modern buildings, consider this brief history of asbestos.
Asbestos And The Ancients
The Ancient Greeks were the first to value asbestos for its fire-resistant properties. The first known asbestos mine was located on the Ancient Greek isle of Evvoia, and the word "asbestos" is derived from the Greek word meaning "inextinguishable". The Greeks abandoned the use of asbestos once slaves from the mine began to exhibit a variety of pulmonary disorders.
The Ancient Romans were also fond of asbestos for use as a building material and as clothing. Table cloths made using asbestos fibers were often tossed into the fire after a meal. Since the asbestos in these tablecloths made them fire-resistant, they would emerge from the flames clean and unscathed. The Ancient Egyptians also valued the durability of asbestos, using cloth made from the fibers to wrap their dead. It was believed that asbestos cloth would last for eternity.
The Industrial Revolution And Asbestos
The use of asbestos didn't become commonplace in North America until the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800's. As mechanization began to take over the workplace, a solution was needed to control the heat produced by the machines used on manufacturing lines. Asbestos provided an affordable and plentiful solution, and the first asbestos mine in North America was opened in Asbestos, Canada in 1879.
The popularity of asbestos surged in the United States with the introduction of plans to construct a cross-country rail line. The steam engines that would travel these rail lines would need a form of temperature control, and asbestos proved to be just the ticket. Over time asbestos came to be used in the construction of homes, to insulate shipping containers, and to line automobile brake lines.
With more and more research proving the correlation between respiratory illness and asbestos exposure, people today know what Pliny the Elder knew in Ancient Greece: asbestos can be dangerous. If you have asbestos in your home, call a company like IRS Environmental of WA Inc. to help clear it out.
Regulations banning the use of asbestos in the construction industry have helped to reduce the number of illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos, but it's best to remain vigilant when handling any objects (like vintage car parts or machinery) that could have come into contact with asbestos at any point in the past.