Forge men are essentially the same thing as blacksmiths. They form steel or iron into shape by heating it to very high temperatures, then pounding it into whatever shape they are trying to achieve. The most basic technique of forging is hitting the hot metal by hand with a hammer, but there are other ways of forging metal as well. Drop forging is when dies are placed on both sides of the hot metal and mechanically-powered hammers drive them together. Press forging is essentially the same, but instead of being hammered into place, the dies are pressed around the hot metal through the use of hydraulic pressure. Roll forging is when the hot metal is forced between two rollers that flatten it, or score it with the desired shape. Cold forging uses extreme pressure on smaller pieces of metal to force them into shape without heating them first. Forging is still used today, because forged metal is stronger than cast or machined metal.
In each type of forging other than cold forging, huge amounts of heat are required to heat the metal to make it soft enough that it can be shaped. Some sort of insulation is needed to contain the heat, and also to prevent the possibility of a fire breaking out. Asbestos was commonly the insulator of choice until the past few years. Since ancient times people have known about the insulating capability of asbestos and its complete resistance to fire. In fact, the word “asbestos” comes from the ancient Greek word for indestructible. Asbestos has been found in pottery made in Scandinavia as far back as 3000 BC. The dangers of asbestos have also been known since ancient times. Pliny the Elder wrote that slaves who worked in the asbestos mines died young, and recommended that people working with asbestos breathe through a bladder skin to prevent health problems.
Even though it was a known danger to some, asbestos use became more and more prevalent and was used extensively in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s. People like forge men who worked with hot metal used asbestos to protect themselves from the heat of the forge’s fire, to handle the not metal without fear of burning, and to protect their work tables and shops from catching fire from sparks or accidentally dropped hot iron. It wasn’t until the public started realizing how dangerous asbestos is that government regulations started finally being imposed, but even today, asbestos is still used for some purposes in the United States.
When asbestos fibers are disturbed they slough off dust that can then become airborne. When people inhale the asbestos dust it moves into their lungs and causes irritation to the tissue. Eventually the tissue scars and the scarring can lead to difficulty breathing. Asbestos is also a carcinogen, causing several types of asbestos cancer, including lung cancer and a rare disease called malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma takes 20 to 30 years or more to develop after initial exposure to the asbestos.
The first symptom of mesothelioma is being out of breath while exercising. If it is caught at the earliest stage, the mesothelioma tumor may be surgically removed and the person has the potential for a lifespan of several years – some patients have been known to live for up to 10 years after a diagnosis. Rarely is mesothelioma detected this early. More often, the disease has spread by the time it is diagnosed. There is no cure for mesothelioma, and at later stages the doctors can only treat the symptoms, which include pain and difficulty breathing even at rest, with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. Few people live more than two years after diagnosis.