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The History of Asbestos

Air Pollution Offender AsbestosAsbestos' resilient properties have made it a useful tool for centuries. The ancient Greeks took advantage of the durability of asbestos fibers by spinning asbestos fibers into cloth to be used as blankets and tablecloths. Since asbestos fibers are resistant to fire, the ancient Romans used asbestos in the wicks of their ceremonial candles.

Although the usefulness of asbestos has been known for centuries, it was not until the late 19th century when large deposits of asbestos were discovered in parts of Canada and the northern United States that the emergence of asbestos as a common construction material occurred. The relatively inexpensive production and mass abundance of asbestos-containing materials created a widespread desire to utilize asbestos in building materials. Experimentation with the mineral revealed that asbestos was an excellent fire retardant, an exceptional component of acoustical plaster, and a decorative material. The use of asbestos was not, however, limited to the construction industry. Asbestos was used in the making of fire resistant clothing for fire fighters and hot pads used in food production. Asbestos was also used by the automotive industry in such things as brake shoes and clutch fittings for cars and trucks. In fact, at one time asbestos could be found throughout the country in products ranging from thermal insulation to kitty litter.

It was not until the early 1970's, when studies began to show adverse health effects related to asbestos-containing materials, that the widespread use of asbestos began to slow. Companies began to develop substitutes for asbestos-containing materials and began to remove asbestos from the market. Regulations were developed dealing with the manufacturing and removal of asbestos-containing materials and the massive asbestos mining efforts were abandoned. In some cases, however, a reasonable substitute for asbestos could not be found. Therefore, a few asbestos-containing products are still manufactured today.