Uses of Asbestos Minerals
Since asbestos has a series of very practical properties, such as fire resistance and durability, numerous industries in the U.S. began using it for a wide range of applications in the early 1930s. Asbestos, which came to be known as "the miracle mineral", was present in over 5,000 consumer products, most of which building materials. The construction industry would employ almost exclusively asbestos products until the mid 1980s, hence the presence of this carcinogenic mineral in most houses built before those years.
Incorporating asbestos fibers in building materials was a very common practice, as it would fireproof, strengthen or soundproof the final product, which was crucial in certain cases. For instance, asbestos was added in pipe insulation to increase its resistance to high temperatures, while the fibers in acoustic plasters would enhance their sound absorption properties. A list of the most common asbestos-containing products you might encounter in old buildings can be found on our homepage.
What Other Industries Used Asbestos?
Nevertheless, the manufacturing of building materials was far from being the only business using large amounts of asbestos during the past century. Since the mineral can both insulate and prevent heat transfer, it would also be found in various automotive parts, including:
- heat seals
- brake pads
- hood liners
- engine components
Between 1935 and 1975, the shipbuilding industry would use asbestos to insulate equipment which was susceptible to catching fire, such as boilers and engines, as well as some rooms of the vessels. There were over 300 distinct asbestos products in each U.S. Navy ship, which is why mesothelioma is highly prevalent among veterans who served in this military branch. Every year, approximately 10,000 U.S. veterans lose their lives to asbestos-related diseases.
Other industries within which asbestos use was common before the 1980s are:
- the electric power industry
- the chemical industry
- the oil refining industry
- the textile industry
- the pulp and paper industry
- the steel industry
Asbestos Use Today
Nowadays, asbestos use is rare in the U.S. While asbestos is not entirely banned in the country, federal agencies such as EPA and OSHA have been striving to reduce and prevent exposure by enforcing effective regulations since 1973. Asbestos mining is currently outlawed and new asbestos uses are forbidden. However, the toxic mineral can still be involved in the manufacturing of products which have historically contained it, like roofing materials.
Undoubtedly, the use of asbestos has decreased drastically within the last three decades. In 1973, domestic asbestos use was 803,000 tons, whereas in 2014, only 400 tons were consumed in the U.S. At the moment, the chloralkali industry represents the leading domestic consumer of asbestos. Worldwide, approximately 2 million tons of asbestos are being used annually, primarily in developing countries like Russia or India, which is still significantly less than the record of 5 million tons reached twenty years ago.