Thursday, May 10, 2007

History of Asbestos Use

Marco Polo encountered asbestos in China where it was called salamander’s wool. The ancients had many names for asbestos, calling it "mountain leather," "incombustible linen," "rock floss," and “lapis asbestos”. Defined by its uses, the strange material could be braided into rope or used as insulation. The use of oil lamps for illumination was a major application before the invention of the incandescent light bulb. Once braided, asbestos could be turned into a wick that was both indestructible and cheap. Charlemagne had a napkin made from asbestos that he would purify by throwing into a fire.

At the dawning of the industrial age, machinery, steam, and fire became catalysts for the more widespread use of asbestos. By the 1860’s asbestos began appearing as insulation in the United States and Canada. Thousands of different uses appeared by the middle of the 20th century. These included fire retardant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes and fireplace cement, heat, fire, and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, fireproof drywall, flooring, roofing, lawn furniture, drywall joint compound and on and on. Its widespread use caused an avalanche of mesothelioma cases that continues to this day.

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