History of Asbestos

History of Asbestos

History of Asbestos - Asbestos has been used for thousands of years with its earliest use traced back to ancient civilizations. In fact, Asbestos was named by the ancient Greeks who ironically, also recognized certain hazards of the material. Ancient civilizations valued asbestos for many of the same reasons that post-industrial revolution society valued it, its heat and combustion resistant properties. While knowledge of the health problems associated asbestos were known early on, much of the evidence was anecdotal and did not stop the widespread use of the material.

The popularity of asbestos began to skyrocket at the dawn of the industrial revolution. World Warn I and World War II were events that also prompted the use of asbestos in many military uses. During the wars asbestos was commonly used in combat equipment, planes, ships, and building supplies. It is believed that thousands of metric tons of asbestos were used in ships during World War II on pipes, engines, boilers, and turbines.There were approximately 4.3 million shipyard workers during WWII, for every thousand workers about 14 died of mesothelioma and an unknown number died from asbestosis It is estimated that 100,000 people have died, or will die, from asbestos exposure related to ship building.

Outside of the armed forces, Asbestos was also frequently used in the building and construction industries. Over time asbestos was used in many products, including: insulation, fire retardants, brake pads, cigarette filters, stage curtains, floor tiles, fire suits, caulk, joint compound, home siding and shingles and thermal piping.  To keep up with the demand, the first commercial asbestos mine began in 1879 in Quebec, Canada. The area around the U.S. and Canadian border became the site of many asbestos mines.

The first documented asbestos related death was in 1906. The first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in England in 1924.  The term Mesothelioma was not used in medical literature until 1931, and was not associated with asbestos until sometime in the 1940s. However, it is widely believed that the asbestos companies and the United States government knew about asbestos causing mesothelioma much earlier. In fact the late 1970s, court documents proved that asbestos industry officials knew of asbestos dangers and tried to conceal them.

In 1979, the EPA announced its intention to issue rule that bans all uses of asbestos. However, it took 10 years for this to take place and in 1989 the EPA banned asbestos in most of its major uses. However, Asbestos companies heavily challenged this law and just two years later, the Asbestos industry won federal lawsuit which revoked the EPA's 1989 asbestos ban. In 1991, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned what was commonly known as the "Asbestos Ban and Phaseout Rule of 1989." As a result of this court’s decision many asbestos related products remain on the market today.

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