In the early twentieth century, a number of tragic fires in public theaters prompted a great deal of concern. In response, theater owners installed heavy curtains designed to block onstage fires from audiences. Unfortunately, most of these curtains were made of asbestos. Asbestos is known for its flame retardant properties; in the event of a fire, the curtain would fall and help to extinguish the blaze. These curtains often bore the word “asbestos” to make the audience feel more secure.
They were also installed in warehouses and large halls, and some theaters and other venues still have them in place today. While most asbestos curtains do not pose a direct health risk, testing can cause the material to become weak or damaged, increasing the likelihood that it will emit fibers. This is problematic, because theaters that still use the curtains are required to undergo routine testing and maintenance if necessary.
Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals that appear as fibrous bundles in nature. These fibers are heat resistant and were used in many different ways for decades. However, the harmful effects of asbestos exposure have been discovered and widely publicized in recent years. A single fiber in one’s lungs can cause illnesses as extreme as cancer. The dangers of asbestos are similar to those of most exposure-related cancers: the more a person is exposed to the fibers, the greater the likelihood of developing the disease.
When asbestos fibers get in the lungs, they can cause inflammation and even scarring. This scarring, referred to as asbestosis, can cause respiratory difficulties and even heart failure. Exposure has been linked to several types of cancer, including lung, stomach, intestinal, esophageal, and rectal. It has also been directly linked to a very rare form of cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the chest and the abdominal lining. Even though only about 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are reported each year, the disease is the most common form of cancer caused by asbestos.
Asbestos products have been in direct contact with the human population for decades. It is only in recent years that the effects of this exposure have been discovered and documented. Asbestos curtains, such a useful weapon in fighting fires, are just one of the products that has been linked to these harmful effects.