Asbestos is the name applied to a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals
which came into widespread use during the industrial revolution and its use has
been phased out in most countries after public outcries and proof it was found
harmful to human and animal health in the 1970s. Interestingly, the toxicity of
asbestos was recorded in ancient Rome around 60 AD and the first modern deaths
attributed to asbestos began in the early 1900s but it has taken some 70 years
for authorities to act to protect the population.
Common uses included:
Fire retardant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes and fireplace cement, heat,
fire, and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, fireproof
drywall, flooring, roofing, lawn furniture, drywall joint compounds, vehicle
clutch pads and brake shoes, cigarette filters, crayons and even garden
The reason asbestos became so popular is that it exists as bundles of fibers
that can be separated into durable and thin threads and even woven into cloth.
It is a such a versatile and long lasting material as for example, cloth made
from asbestos could be burned in a fire and not suffer damage which to the
ancients was miraculous.
However the threads break down into ever thinner and smaller pieces without
losing their properties. The fibers become so small that they become airborne
and can attach to skin or be inhaled. As with modern fiberglass, asbestos causes
skin to itch upon contact and when inhaled, lodges in the lungs where it causes
cancer where and the victim usually dies with what is referred to as asbestoses
In most Western countries, if you suspect there may be asbestos in your
environment, reporting your finding to your local health dept or local
government office should set in motion a safe program to investigate and remove
or make safe the problem.
Shattered Lives: The Human Face of the Asbestos Tragedy