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A Brief History of Asbestos

Asbestos has been in the news a lot in recent decades, but it has been in use for far longer than that. Its history actually goes back more than 2,000 years, to the days of Ancient Greece. In fact, its name comes from a Greek word meaning “inextinguishable,” and Ancient Greeks hailed the substance as a “miracle mineral.” Even then, however, some observers had doubts about the safety of asbestos.

Despite the reservations of historians like Pliny the Elder, who noticed that asbestos miners often developed lung disease, the use of asbestos began to spread. Before long, Ancient Egyptians, Indians, and Persians were all using the substance in a variety of ways. People appreciated its useful properties like flame resistance and endurance. It was used to create textiles, building materials, and funeral dressings. In the Medieval era, knights even used it to insulate their armor.

Asbestos and the Industrial Revolution

Asbestos gained new popularity across North America during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. This is when manufacturers began to use it in many different capacities, including:

  • Strengthening cement and building tiles
  • Producing flame-resistant insulation for pipes, water heaters, and so on
  • Creating long-lasting lining for vehicles’ brake pads
  • Creating flame- and acid-resistant gaskets and drywall
  • Constructing ships, particularly for the US Navy

By the early 20th century, medical researchers had documented evidence linking asbestos to deadly lung diseases. Despite this, its popularity continued for nearly a century more.

Asbestos and Public Health

As the 20th century progressed, healthcare professionals and mesothelioma attorneys began to expose the true dangers of this “miracle mineral.” By the late 1970’s, these dangers were widely known and use of asbestos began to decline. Sadly, these changes did not come in time to prevent countless tragic deaths from asbestos exposure, and many are still seeking asbestos help resources.

To this day, asbestos continues to constitute a public health risk. Because of mesothelioma’s long latency period, people who have worked with asbestos may not become ill for years or decades. In addition, they are not the only ones who are at risk. People who have lived near asbestos mines or mills, or even lived with asbestos workers, may also develop mesothelioma or other medical problems.

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