Complete History of Asbestos

5000 BC

Asbestos mines first appear in Finland, Sweden, Greece and Cyprus
4000 BC

Asbestos used for wicks in lamps and candles. The substance was known as “asbestos”, meaning inextinguishable or unquenchable.
2000 - 3000 BC

Embalmed bodies of Egyptian pharaohs were wrapped in asbestos clothes to offset the ravages of time. Asbestos fibers are used in ancient Egypt and Persia. It is sewn into clothing, worked into pottery and built into log homes as insulation.
2500 BC

Used in Finland to strengthen clay pots.
300 BC

Asbestos first described by Greek philosopher Theophrastus
50 AD

The naturally-occurring fibers are named ‘asbestos’ by Pliny the Elder, a Roman Scholar. He also describes illnesses in slaves who worked around the substance at this time.

Anecdotal evidence of Charlemagne’s tablecloth being made from woven asbestos. In 814, Charlemagne died of pleurisy, an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds and protects the lungs.

Mediterranean’s used chrysotile from Cyprus and tremolite from upper Italy for the fabrication of cremation cloths, mats and wicks for temple lamps.
1300 - 1400

Marco Polo visited an asbestos mine in China in the latter half of the 13th Century. He concluded that asbestos was a stone and laid to rest the myth that asbestos was the hair of a woolly lizard.
Early 1700’s

Evidence that asbestos papers and boards were made as early as 1700 in Italy.

Chrysotile mined in Russia during the reign of Peter the Great.

Benjamin Franklin brought a purse made of asbestos to England. The purse is now in the Natural History Museum.

Asbestos is rediscovered by modern man, becoming popular material used for building, chronicled by German scientist Franz Bruckmann.

Blue asbestos (crocidolite) first discovered in Orange (South Africa) and was originally named “Woolstone”.

Italian scientist Giovanni Aldini crafts fireproof clothing from asbestos

The first known US patent issued for asbestos insulating material used in steam engines. Use of asbestos in construction begins to rise.

Chrysotile first discovered in Quebec, Canada at the Thedford mines.
Circa 1853

Asbestos helmet and jackets worn by Parisian Fire Brigade.

Packings and gaskets were produced, as mixtures of asbestos and organic fibrous materials.

Moulded lagging material made from waterglass and asbestos.

Italian asbestos industry based on tremolite asbestos dates back to 1866.
Early 1870’s

Founding of large asbestos industries in Scotland, Germany and England with the production of “asbestos boards”.
Mid 1870’s

Identification of large deposits of chrysotile identified in Canada & USSR for mining potential.

First commercial asbestos mine starts in Canada.

The American asbestos industry is founded with the use of Italian asbestos to manufacture asbestos paper and board.

Asbestos pipe lagging materials, based on 85% magnesia, were developed.

First asbestos brake linings were made by Ferodo Limited in England. Made by impregnating woven asbestos brake bands with resin.

Viennese physician wrote than emaciation and pulmonary problems left no doubt that (asbestos) dust inhalation was the cause.

England, Lady Inspectors of factories wrote regarding the asbestos manufacturing processes “…. on account of their easily demonstrated danger to the heath of the workers, and because of ascertained cases of injury to bronchial tubes and lungs medically attributed to the employment of the sufferers”.

First patent for the manufacture of asbestos cement sheet in Germany.

Initially patented in 1896, first high pressure asbestos gaskets made by Klinger in Austria.

Commencement of mining of anthophyllite in Finland.

Asbestos brake linings manufactured in the USA. The 1st case of asbestos-related disease is mentioned in medical literature.

Amosite (brown asbestos) discovered in Transvaal, South Africa. The word amosite derived from an acronym of “Asbestos Mines of South Africa” from the Amosa mine.

First asbestos pipes developed in Italy.

Asbestos brake linings manufactured in Germany

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals abnormal early deaths among asbestos workers.

Standard corrugated sheet introduced in Australia by Hardies.

Large asbestos companies experimented on ways of weaving asbestos. Succeeded, but chrysotile and crocidolite were the only fibres to be woven commercially. Crocidolite being almost exclusively used for manufacture of asbestos mattresses for steam trains.

Workers & their families begin suing Johns Manville Corporation, the world’s largest asbestos mine/manufacturer, for exposure to asbestos on the job.

Asbestos industry regulations were passed in the UK to address concerns that asbestos exposure, particularly among textile factory workers led to lung damage.

In the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the Wicked Witch of the West appeared on a broom made of asbestos.
1939 - 1945

Wartime paraphernalia including fireproof suits and parachute flares contained asbestos.
1945 - 1975

Post-war construction projects relied heavily on the use of asbestos reaching an all-time high in 1973.
1952 - 1956

Kent Cigarettes use crocidolite asbestos in their Micronite filters.

Health concerns began to surface in the US and UK after studies revealed that low levels of asbestos exposure could be more dangerous than previously thought.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that people who work with asbestos-containing materials have a greater-than-normal incidence of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The EPA documents asbestos as a known carcinogen and announces intention to ban all uses of the substance.

The solid fuel boosters of the Space Shuttle are insulated with asbestos. One of the few remaining current uses.

The collapse of the Twin Tower buildings on September 11 releases an estimated 400 tonnes of asbestos into the Manhattan air.

US Senate passes the 1st Asbestos Awareness Resolution.

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) testifies before US Congress about the continuing dangers of asbestos exposure in the US. More than 50 countries ban asbestos, but not yet in the US or Canada.

Despite overwhelming evidence of its dangers, asbestos is still not completely banned.

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Conducting a 

Visual Inspection

Asbestos becomes harmful when the materials containing asbestos are disturbed. However, some property owners have the knowledge and experience to conduct a visual inspection around their property to check for asbestos. To conduct a basic visual inspection for asbestos in your home, download our printable DIY Inspection Diagram (10MB PDF) that includes the potential location(s) and appearance of the threatening materials around your house.
download the inspection diagram

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