Asbestos Use and Exposure Risks at Movie Theaters

By Stan G. in Health

A series of fires that broke out in movie theatres in the 20th century prompted the installation of curtains made up of asbestos for safety reasons. At that time, using asbestos curtains was a legitimate solution as the material was extremely resistant to fire and flames, easy to source and inexpensive.

Fireproof asbestos curtains were used in movie theaters between the 1950s and 1980s. These curtains looked gorgeous and mimicked beautiful red velvet, and were referred to as "fire curtains" or "safety curtains". These fire-resistant curtains would help to keep the fire isolated to the stage and make the public safe in case a fire breaks out on stage. Apart from movie theaters, places such as live performance theaters, halls, auditoriums, and concert venues started adopting asbestos curtains. Even to the present day, most of these asbestos curtains persist, particularly at older venues.

Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Curtains

The use of asbestos curtains protected stage performers, audience members, and other workers from fires but these curtains when worn out pose a health risk as deadly diseases can develop if asbestos fibers gain entry into our body. Asbestos exposure is the only cause of a type of cancer called mesothelioma that will take several decades to develop. When the asbestos curtain is disturbed, asbestos fibers get released into the air and can be easily inhaled by surrounding people.

Once the theater workers, patrons, and their family members breathe in or ingest asbestos fibers, the tiny fibers get lodged into tissues covering organs such as lungs, heart, and abdomen. These fibers get stuck within the body's soft tissues as there are no mechanisms to break down or remove the fibers. The lodged asbestos fibers remain there and over the years the healthy cells undergo mutation.

Asbestos exposure can also lead to a condition called asbestosis and cancer of the lungs, esophagus, colon, and rectum. Asbestosis occurs when asbestos fibers get into the lungs and cause inflammation and scarring leading to breathing difficulty.

People Likely to Be Exposed to Asbestos in Curtains

People who worked with or in the vicinity of asbestos curtains are at a higher risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos curtains, when worn out, cut or ripped released tiny fibers into the air. As with any safety tool, the curtains needed testing and maintenance regularly. The testing process would also release asbestos fibers into the air. Therefore, any person working with or around the asbestos curtains when such disruption is done is at risk of breathing in asbestos fibers. Additionally, family members of people who worked with asbestos curtains were also exposed to asbestos as these fibers were easily transported home.

People involved in the below-listed occupations are likely to be in contact with asbestos curtains:

  • Theater employees
  • Safety inspectors
  • Sound and light technicians
  • Stage crews
  • Stage managers
  • Maintenance workers
  • Actors, actresses, and performers

People who have worked in theaters around asbestos curtains and have developed mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease are eligible to seek compensation.

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.