Asbestos in Textiles Explained
Asbestos has been used in the production of fabrics for centuries, mainly chrysotile (white) asbestos. Unlike other forms of asbestos, chrysotile fibers are soft and pliable rather than needle-like, which lends itself very well to making textiles akin to cloth. As asbestos is fireproof and durable, it seemed like an ideal material to use to create heat-proof fabrics.
Asbestos was used to create the following specialty fabrics and textiles:
- Boiler and furnace cloths
- Curtains and upholstery
- Ironing board covers
- Industrial protective garments
- Welding blankets
- Fire blankets
- Heat-resistant gloves
- Military textiles
- Brake linings
Asbestos was used to create fabric because it was inexpensive, readily available and didn’t itch or stretch like fabrics such as wool and cotton. Asbestos is durable under extreme heat, so it was the perfect addition to textiles used to make protective clothing.
The asbestos fibers in textiles underwent the following process:
- Blending and fiberization
- Roving and carding
- Spinning and weaving
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Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Textiles?
While asbestos was a cheap way to produce textiles, it was also hazardous. The carcinogenic nature of asbestos was not fully realized until the 1980s, and before that many workers were unknowingly put at risk of coming into contact with harmful asbestos.
Workers Wore Protective Clothing Containing Asbestos
Trade workers, such as welders, or those working in power plants were given heat-proof overalls, often containing asbestos. Military veterans, firefighters and other emergency service workers may have also been given protective clothing containing asbestos.
Unfortunately, these ‘protective’ outfits that contained asbestos may have put workers at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. It not only put the workers at risk but their families too. Many workers would come home with asbestos particles on their hair and shoes, potentially putting family members at risk of developing mesothelioma too.
Textile Mill Workers
Textile mill workers were also at risk of developing mesothelioma.
In 1947, the Asbestos Textile Institute (ATI) commissioned a study on the dangers of asbestos to textile factory workers and concluded that the industry should re-examine its threshold limit. The study was never acted upon, but it proves that many textile factory owners were aware of the risks of asbestos on their workers but never tried to re-evaluate it.
Textile workers were responsible for:
- Setting up and operating machines
- Bleaching and dying textiles
- Spinning, weaving and carding asbestos fibers
- Testing and inspecting materials
- Supervising production lines
- General maintenance
Textile mill workers responsible for spinning, weaving and carding asbestos textiles may have been most at risk. They were in close proximity to broken asbestos fibers, risking inhaling the airborne particles.
Employees working in these kinds of factory environments may have had a lack of access to fresh air due to poor ventilation. Airborne asbestos particles can circulate through the entire factory, potentially putting all employees at risk.
Access Asbestos Trust Funds
Compensation for treatment, loss of income and other damages are available through Asbestos Trust Funds. Mesothelioma patients exposed to asbestos in textiles may qualify.
Health Risks of Asbestos in Textiles
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart and abdomen. The only known cause is exposure to asbestos. The needle-like nature of the fibers would make it easy for asbestos to pierce the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Over time, the lodged fibers can cause irritation to the surrounding tissue, triggering cancerous cell mutations.
Health Risks of Textile Workers in China
A 2011 study looked at the mortality associated with exposure to chrysotile fibers. A group of 77 textile factory workers in China was assessed from 1972-2008. They found that 96 of the workers developed some form of cancer—53 developed lung cancer and 2 developed mesothelioma.
Those working in the ‘high exposure’ jobs were found to be more likely to develop mesothelioma than those in ‘low exposure’ jobs. The study confirmed that there was increased mortality from lung cancer and all cancers in asbestos workers and that the cancer mortality was closely linked to exposure level.
Seeking Justice for Mesothelioma
Many people have developed mesothelioma as a result of working with products like asbestos-containing textiles. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and believe it may be from working with asbestos in textiles, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Legal options like asbestos trust funds exist to help victims pay for medical expenses and other damages