Asbestos in Protective Clothing
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, asbestos became every industry's saving grace, as its fireproofing qualities and low cost allowed for cheap products to be made in large amounts and quickly.
As the popularity of the fibrous mineral increased, it inevitably made its way into day-to-day life as well. Pipes and electrical wiring in homes were lined with asbestos mixtures despite the severe concerns a few medical professionals raised regarding asbestos exposure at the time. Today, it is a well-known fact that exposure to asbestos is the cause of various cancers, a risk that still lingers for everyone working or living in buildings built before the 1980s.
Equipment That Protected From Heat but Threatened Health
Some manufacturing processes around the time when World War II was occurring saw asbestos as an attractive material to be used in fire and heat protection. Wartime foundries produced state-of-the-art metal castings crucial to the US arsenal and victory. Workers needed heat protection in the high-temperature environment, and protective equipment needed an upgrade.
Because asbestos made its way into numerous materials, manufacturing a particular type of shoe, the molder's shoe applied new, strengthened materials with miraculous fibers. Molder's shoes were marketed as a fireproof shoe option and were quickly introduced into other industry branches. It led to the widespread use of asbestos-contaminated shoes worn daily by thousands of workers who unknowingly risked their health while earning a living.
In addition to these asbestos shoes, insoles were made using the toxic mineral. They were sold claiming they would "make your feet feel happy." Such insoles were touted as antiseptic insoles that prevented various conditions, and wearing them had "beneficial" results, such as:
- peel off callouses
- reduce bunions
Some asbestos insoles were marketed as downright able to stop your feet from sweating, thereby preventing bad-smelling feet.
Fireproof Garments and Heat-Resistant Overalls
Before the campaigns against the use of asbestos materials spread among the public, asbestos fibers were also applied to make clothes that would protect against fire. Firefighters' protective jackets and fireproof blankets needed in rescue missions were sewn from asbestos-containing materials. Because asbestos fibers are thin and resistant, they were woven into many textiles produced to withstand:
- electrical currents
Such material became the most appropriate for the overalls of people working in construction, plumbing, mining, and the manufacturing industry in general. But asbestos garments didn't only affect the lives of those who wore them but also those who washed and scrubbed asbestos clothing in the laundries. It resulted in tragic death cases like the one of those times when a family died of mesothelioma because of the father's asbestos overalls worn while working on a construction site.
Gas Masks, Protection From Toxic Fumes but Contamination With Hazardous Asbestos Fibers
Gas masks were manufactured with asbestos from approximately the mid-1930s until the 1960s. Ironically, gas masks were meant to purify the air firefighters breathed in while mitigating flames and reducing their chances of inhaling chemical gases. However, a few million gas masks of that period contained crocidolite, a type of asbestos with an excellent tensile strength but extremely fibrous and thus brittle.
Because many of these gas masks were made in response to World War II, they were often on display or used as school exhibits to learn about this critical time in history. Consequently, the danger of asbestos exposure increased further in the public medium.
It demonstrates that while most production processes that used asbestos ran out of fashion by the 1960s, manufacturers still added the material to many commonly used products. It's why, despite modern restrictions, asbestos continues to threaten people's health through the legacy of old asbestos products that continues.
Given that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, everyone should seek professional help if they find asbestos-containing products showing visible signs of deterioration. Minor asbestos issues can be handled following our DIY asbestos removal page.