For many people, the extent of their knowledge about asbestos is that it is a dangerous substance that should be avoided at all costs. But there is more to the checkered history of asbestos than this one fact, important though it is.
Asbestos use can be dated to as early as 5,000 B.C., and there is evidence that its health effects first began to be known in 100 A.D. Roman historian and naturalist “Pliny the Elder” noted its harmful effects on the lungs of slaves that worked in asbestos mines.
Fast-forward to the 19th century, and you have asbestos mines operating in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Manufacturers couldn’t get enough of this “miracle mineral,” as it was known. The durability and flame resistance of asbestos made it a sought-after ingredient in many types of everyday household products, as well as in automotive and construction materials. In the 20th century asbestos use ramped up in a big way during the post-WWII building boom, with U.S. consumption of asbestos reaching a peak of 719,000 tons in 1973.
But in the early 1970s there began to be a steady drumbeat of warning about the health hazards of asbestos. WWII veterans were starting to show an alarming rate of asbestos-related disease including mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the linings of the chest and abdomen. Approximately one third of mesothelioma cases have been shown to involve U.S. Navy or shipyard exposure. Mesothelioma is caused only by exposure to asbestos.
Despite everything we know about the dangers of asbestos exposure, news stories continue to report asbestos violations occurring throughout the United States. More than 3,000 people will be diagnosed with mesothelioma this year alone.
History has taught us what we need to know about this deadly mineral, but it is up to us to apply that knowledge. Educate yourself about asbestos. Learn all that you can to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe. Start by taking our short quiz to learn more about the history of asbestos. Some of the answers may surprise you.