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History of Asbestos

By the time asbestos was discovered by the modern world in the early twentieth century, it had already been used in a variety of capacities by the majority of major civilizations and cultures. It can be traced back to about the first century A.D when the first commercial mine was established on the Greek island of Ewoia.

The Greeks are believed to have been the first to discover asbestos and all of its useful traits. In fact, the Greek word for “inextinguishable” gives asbestos its name. The Greeks were soon joined by the Romans in using the mineral for a huge number of items. Armor, women’s clothing, table cloths, napkins, and a wide number of other textiles all utilized asbestos in some fashion. By the time of the Holy Roman Empire, asbestos was being used in building materials because its strength and fire resistant properties had already been discovered.

Modern Use of Asbestos

Roughly a thousand years later, the Industrial Revolution provided a huge boom for the asbestos industry. New applications for the mineral were discovered on a regular basis and demand for the mineral had never been higher. In this period, the railroad industry was among the largest consumers of asbestos. Since that industry was taking off and booming, so too did the asbestos industry. With the advent of the steam engine, asbestos was also used in shipbuilding to insulate the boilers of the ships. These two industries helped propel the commercial popularity of asbestos.

The twentieth century saw the use of asbestos spread from ships and trains to cars, elevators, and skyscrapers. While ships and trains spurred the use of the material during the Industrial Revolution, the building and construction industries were the largest users of asbestos in the twentieth century.

Even while the industry was still booming, there were signs – some dating back to the Greeks and the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder – that asbestos was unsafe for humans. It was not until the 1970s that society fully realized the health risks of asbestos and started cutting back on its use.

Today the largest industry in the asbestos world is the safe removal of the product from buildings and other structures.

For more information on the history of asbestos, please call 1-800-781-3955.

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