Asbestos is a rather remarkable naturally occurring substance. Known as “rock floss” or “mountain leather”, man has found many uses for asbestos throughout the ages.
The word “asbestos” comes from the Greek name for “inextinguishable” or “indestructible.” For thousands of years asbestos has been admired for its heat- and fire-resistant properties as well as its strength.
There is evidence that Egyptians, five thousand years ago, wrapped the bodies of their pharaohs in asbestos in preparation for their journey to the next world.
It’s been found in ancient Scandinavian pottery.
It’s been found in ancient Roman lamp wicks and table cloths. The easily cleaned their table linens by just throwing them into a fire. After which they just removed them and shook them out.
As Industrial Age machinery spread through the US and Canada, asbestos was used to insulate machinery and factories.
Around 1880 large asbestos deposits were discovered in Russia and Canada. This marked the start of the modern commercial asbestos industry.
By the beginning of the Second World War “rock floss” was extensively used in a wide range of products that included cement, insulation, packing materials, and nonflammable fabrics.
It was used in everything from clutch facings and brake shoes in cars to paper products, small kitchen appliances, and wallboards in homes.
By the time of the Korean War began asbestos was used in literally thousands of products, including cigarette filters.
Within the next twenty years the deadly results associated with the use of asbestos started to become more well known by the public.
Then, in the 1970s, the United States government began to ban the production of many products that contained this substance. Consequently, asbestos use started to decline sharply.
However, people who had regularly worked with materials and products that contained asbestos had already been exposed to the substance. And an increasingly large number of these people were succumbing to illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
In addition, the family members of employees who worked for ship building, construction, mining, and other factories whose products used asbestos were also getting ill. This happened because asbestos fibers were being brought home on the employee’s clothing.
Today lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other illnesses related to asbestos are being increasingly recognized as diseases that were probably caused by second hand exposure to these fibers.
People who live close to asbestos mines may be drinking water that contains the material. People who live in homes that were constructed with asbestos products may be breathing in the fibers as these materials wear down and the fibers are released into the air.
Asbestos fibers can be contaminating drinking water as it is released from the cement pipes that are used to carry the water or after it is filtered through water filters that contain “mountain leather”.
Because of these water-related risks the EPA now mandates that water suppliers regularly test water samples.
The best way to protect you and your family from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related illnesses is to limit the amount of exposure at work and at home.