Asbestos and Its Downfall - a Brief History

Asbestos and Its Downfall - a Brief History

Just last century, asbestos was among the most popular choices when it came to big companies designing profitable business plans. The mineral was flexible but lightweight at the same time and it displayed high resistance to corrosion and fire.

However, it was proven that the material is toxic to humans, which was a difficult and prolonged process due to the delayed latency period of asbestos-related illnesses. Asbestos fibers cannot be identified by sight, smell or taste, therefore, the presence of the harmful substance can easily go unnoticed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes six types of asbestos: Actinolite, Amosite, Anthophyllite, Chrysotile, Crocidolite, and Tremolite. According to the EPA, they are linked to mesothelioma and other types of cancer.

Professions and Asbestos Exposure

Having been cheap and exploited in mines all across the U.S., asbestos was marketed by industries for many uses, most commonly for ceiling, flooring, insulation, and roofing in construction, for boiler and pipes in shipbuilding, or for brakes and gaskets in cars.

Therefore, throughout the popularity of asbestos, the most exposed to its toxicity were people from the following professions:

The workers at the time were unaware of the danger and would spend their entire workday unprotected in asbestos-filled spaces. Their families were also being exposed due to them bringing the asbestos inside the home on their clothing.

More than 50 countries around the world have a definite ban on asbestos, yet there are still places in which the manufacturing and commercialization of asbestos are legal under specific conditions. Among these are big economic forces such as The United States, China, and Russia.

The History of Asbestos Usage

History records show practices in Ancient Egypt in which a type of asbestos cloth was used in tasks as ceremonious as covering the dead bodies of pharaohs and as banal as wiping one's hands after a meal.

Asbestos rose to power at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Although it was mined before, the rapid mechanization of formerly manual labor created a profitable circle of supply and demand.

North American mines were exploited tirelessly and asbestos was promoted by nearly every big industry gaining momentum at the time. The only slowdown recorded before its ban in the 1970s had been the period of the Great Depression. However, asbestos came back even stronger with the outbreak of World War II and the extensive needs of the U.S. military for such material.

With disregarded warnings about the dangers of asbestos exposure issued by the Surgeon General himself as early as the 1930s, medical reports kept piling up and eventually reached the public in the 1970s when regulations for asbestos use were finally being considered.

As the population was made aware of the damaging effects of asbestos on their health, a dramatic and accelerated decline in asbestos usage occurred, leading to work in mines being shut down all over the U.S., with the last one closing in 2002.

The Law and Asbestos Use

In 1970, the Clean Air Act classifies asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant for the first time. Furthermore, with the release of the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, the EPA was provided with the authority to work on banning more asbestos-based items, but their attempts were dismissed in a court decision in 1991.

Currently, the American government approves asbestos use as long as it constitutes no more than 1% of the composition of the product. However, the fact is that many objects in households and workplaces that have been purchased before this rule was enforced can potentially contain a higher concentration of asbestos creating a dangerous environment, decades after its downfall.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.