The History of Asbestos

Asbestos is a dangerous material that was used regularly up until the 1970’s. When it forms, it takes the shape of filament-like crystals. Unknown to people of the past, disturbed asbestos causes the filaments to float around in the air. When we breathe asbestos in, the filaments get stuck in our lungs and can cause respiratory issues later on in our lives.

Despite the unknown dangers, this material was used for almost everything for centuries.

What has it been used for?

Asbestos was primarily used in products that needed to be insulated or fire-resistant. It was often woven into fabrics, furniture, and other materials.

Hundreds of Years B.C.E.

Yes, asbestos dates this far back! It has been found in clay pots in order to strengthen them and keep them fire resistant. In funeral pyres in Greece, people wrapped the dead in these fibers so that their ashes would not mix with the fire’s ashes.

Here’s the funny thing, though: during this time, people understood asbestos was dangerous. They noticed miners and slaves who mined or worked with asbestos developing lung issues. They gave their workers and slaves masks to wear, but didn’t stop using the material.

The Middle Ages

The knowledge of the dangers of asbestos were lost during this time period. Cremation cloths, candle wicks, and table cloths (which were prone to burning during celebrations) were all made with asbestos.

The Mongolians used it in their clothing so it would not burn. The French, Germans, and Italians all used it to wrap their ammunition for their catapults.

The 1700’s and On

Fire brigades around the globe during the 1700’s and 1800’s wore clothing woven with asbestos. Paper and bank notes also held asbestos to keep important information from burning.

More recently, Hollywood films used asbestos in more ways than one. Hollywood producers found that clumps of raw asbestos worked perfectly as a prop for snow. During the filming of The Wizard of Oz, asbestos rained on Dorothy and her companions while they were in the poppy field. Asbestos was also used in the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick so that when she melted, her broomstick did not. Similarly, asbestos was used for snow in “White Christmas”, 1954. In fact, asbestos was so commonly used as a prop that it was commercialized and sold as “White Magic” or “Snow Drift.”

More commonly, asbestos was a huge factor in building homes due to its fire resistance. Insulation, shingles, tiles, siding, pipes, paint, plaster, and more all contained asbestos until it was banned for its health effects in the 70’s.

Because it was used for so long, there is a high probability that asbestos is still residing in older homes and objects in those homes. It isn’t a big issue if is isn’t disturbed, but if you’re remodeling or causing movement by maintaining your home, you may be at risk. However, Valley Restoration and Construction can help! Visit our website to see how.