Blacksmiths and Asbestos Exposure
When most people think of a blacksmith, they imagine a blackened old westerner heating iron over a blazing fire.
They see the metalsmith hammering away over a fireproof table, protected only by an apron, gloves, and maybe a face shield. This describes the exact day-to-day professional life of the 20th-century blacksmith.
Professional blacksmiths have operated for hundreds of years. Since the dawn of the Bronze Age, skilled workers have made careers out of metalworking.
As technology advanced over time, many successful metal crafters and blacksmiths earned handsome rewards by developing new techniques and tools.
Asbestos in Blacksmithing
One major blacksmithing career breakthrough was the discovery of a seemingly amazing material that doesn’t conduct heat or catch fire — asbestos.
Asbestos made blacksmiths’ jobs easier and temporarily safer. It was widely used for heat protection in blacksmithing. Sadly, the health of blacksmiths suffered terribly due to their repeated exposure to asbestos.
Modern-day blacksmiths still use a combination of high heat and controlled cooling to make spectacular works of iron and steel. However, their job is far safer now that they know about the hazards of asbestos exposure.
How Blacksmiths Were Exposed to Asbestos
Asbestos surrounded early blacksmiths. The hazardous material was once thought of as the perfect blacksmithing protective material and was used to add fire-resistant and heat-proof qualities to clothing and work surfaces.
Microscopic airborne asbestos fibers filled blacksmith shops and were inhaled continually by unsuspecting tradespersons.
Blacksmiths faced the threat of asbestos exposure from their:
- Face protection
- Work surfaces
Blacksmith shops were designed to allow smoke and heat to escape while keeping out water and wind. As a result, most blacksmith workshops were semi-enclosed, wood-frame structures that trapped airborne asbestos.
Many other people were indirectly exposed to asbestos surrounding the blacksmithing trade.
Blacksmiths returned home each day with asbestos contamination on their clothing, exposing their family and friends to the dangerous fibers. Customers and suppliers who came and went from blacksmith shops also inhaled asbestos.