Asbestos continues to represent a considerable threat to the health of construction workers and the population at large. Though some applications for asbestos have been banned in the United States, the naturally occurring silicate mineral itself is not.
The first use of asbestos is believed to date back to the Stone Age, approximately 750,000 years ago, as archeologists found asbestos fibers that were used for wicks in lamps and candles. Furthermore, the embalmed bodies of Egyptian pharaohs were wrapped in asbestos cloth to protect the bodies from deterioration between 2000-3000 B.C. In Finland, clay pots dating back to 2500 B.C. contained asbestos fibers, which are believed to have been added to strengthen the pots and make them resistant to fire.
Knowing the modern history of asbestos is important to understanding the current challenges in the construction sector. In the 20th century, industrialization gave way to unparalleled development and growth throughout the nation. Asbestos was then the raw material of choice for an almost infinite range of applications. It was hailed as a magical material and praised for its:
Unique strength and durability qualities;
Fire, heat, chemical and electricity resistance; and
Low cost of mining and production.
The physical and chemical qualities of asbestos made it ideal for solving the many technical challenges arising from industrialization. For example, companies used asbestos extensively as a fortification measure in nearly everything, such as tile, flooring, insulation, electrical applications, heating systems, cooling systems, windows and roofing.
In the early 20th century, the medical community quickly realized the adverse health effects of this deadly mineral. That’s when cases of asbestos-related mortality were first diagnosed and documented. However, despite this newfound knowledge, the use of asbestos continued. Asbestos reached its heyday after World War II when the number of applications and products grew in the construction industry.
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