A naturally occurring material, Asbestos is a group of 6 silicon based minerals which have been historically used for their mixture of precious characteristics. Asbestos is made up of microscopic, fibrous crystals which are resistant to heat and chemicals and have huge tensile strength and flexibility. By nature, the material is hazardous and inhalation can cause severe health issues such as lung cancer, Asbestosis and Mesothelioma.
First documented by the ancient Greeks, they acknowledged the valuable properties of the substance whilst also being moderately conscious of the hazards. ‘Strabo’ a Greek geographer became conscious of the significant persistent lung damage of slaves who worked with the material, mining it and weaving it into cloth.
Wealthy Persians, Greeks and Romans used asbestos for tablecloths and garments; they would often exhibit to guests how the material could be cleaned in fire. This became a trendy status symbol as a number of cultures believed the material was made of the coat of a fire dwelling animal known as a ‘Samandar’.
By the 19th century Asbestos had become commercially exploited as it provided many properties unobtainable from other materials. It was used in fireproofing, bricks, pipe insulation and roofing to name a few and its uses were not limited to buildings. Ships were commonly fitted with the material as insulation and fireproofing, particularly during WWII.
In the early 1900s, researchers noticed elevated death rates and lung diseases in asbestos mining areas and by the 1930s scientists had officially diagnosed sufferers of ‘asbestosis’ and ‘Mesothelioma’ with a direct link to the exposure to asbestos.
By the year 2000 all production and use of all kinds of asbestos was banned and by November 2006 the UK government had introduced a strict regulations aimed at minimising contact with the material. The legislations ban the use of the material but also provide strict guidelines on how to manage existing asbestos.