The History of Asbestos

April 19, 2022


Asbestos dates back to prehistoric times and became popular in the Industrial Age used in building construction. Yet, many countries like Canada have now banned its use. The United States still needs to ban the use of the mineral even if regulated since 1970. So, let's look at the background history of asbestos.

Asbestos Discovery

The mineral was discovered in 2400BC as people used it in Finland to make cooking utensils and pots. There is even a reference to asbestos on Stones from 300BC in Theophrastus. He was the successor in the Peripatetic school in Greece to Aristotle. Asbestos comes from ancient Greek. It means unquenchable or inextinguishable, making it flame resistant.

First Century A.D.

Asbestos toxicity was first discovered in Rome by Pliny, the Younger's scholar. He wrote that the mine enslaved people working with the mineral became sick. Yet, the cause of the mysterious illness was only discovered 2,000 years later.

The Birth of the Asbestos Industry

In 1858 the Johns Company started mining anthophyllite as insulation in buildings. The Industrial Revolution marked a new era as the production of asbestos increased in North America. The first commercial asbestos mine opened in Quebec in 1874.

In 1918 the U.S. Bureau of Labor released a report revealing a high risk of death among asbestos workers. In 1930 Dr. E.R.A Merewether published his first clinical examination found on hundreds of workers in the industry suffering from asbestosis.

He concluded that the disease was latency as it does not show signs of injury only after years. However, the doctor said that the dust needs to be controlled using ventilation and respirators. He also said that the workers need to be informed about the dangers of asbestos. Click here to learn more.

Furthermore, the finished products that create dust need to be controlled to help minimize it. Today the findings are fully implemented in the asbestos industry. At the same time, in the U.K, his research with his partner Dr. C.W. Price published a report that stated that within nine months of working with the mineral, asbestosis occurs.

The British asbestos factories started protecting their workers with this discovery. Yet, the regulations were not used with workers in other parts of the asbestos industry that handheld the material.

The First Report of Asbestosis in America

In 1933 the first report of asbestosis came known from a worker in an American insulation company. They said the disease was misdiagnosed as a pulmonary disease similar to tuberculosis. However, the Metropolitan Life Insurance company found that 29% of the workers had asbestosis in the Johns-Manville factory. This led to settlements and lawsuits filed by eleven employees.

The Link Between Asbestos and Cancer

In 1934 researchers reported that asbestos workers had developed asbestosis into lung cancer. However, these workers only had exposure to the mineral for six months. The report further included workers exposed to insulation, boiler workers, and custodians.

During 1942 Dr. W.C. Heuper reported that lung cancer is likely caused by workers handling the asbestos. These included the manufacturing stage through to the finishing product stage. In 1949 he warned that working with asbestos has a high cancer risk.

There were over 200 references available in the literature to state his findings as correct. In 1943 the first mesothelioma-like tumor was reported by Dr. Welder in Germany.

The Asbestos Concern Becomes Huge

Since 1947 Dr. Merewether found that 13% of asbestosis illnesses ended up in lung cancer. Even the Britannica encyclopedia listed asbestos as a harmful causing mineral in 1949. Since then, asbestos has been the cause of different related illnesses, including mesothelioma. The sickness has also been found in the wives and children of the asbestos workers.

As time progressed, many warning signs were ignored even with the 200 publications available. By 1964 the disease became widespread, and the first successful personal injury claimed was in 1979 in the U.K. From 1972 to 1974, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration increased the federal regulations on asbestos.

The EPA's attempts in 1989 to phase out the use of asbestos in products. The complete ban in the U.K. only happened a decade after that. In 1991 while most of the use of asbestos was banned in some products, you can still find it used in some products manufactured today.

So, as you can see, asbestos is not a material that you can deal with lightly. So, therefore, if you have an old home with asbestos building materials present, we recommend calling a professional for asbestos removal in Calgary today.


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