Mesothelioma Asbestos History

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral, historically used as a component of many types of construction materials. However, dangers associated with exposure to asbestos have been proven, as has its connection to multiple diseases, such as mesothelioma. Learn how its use in the past was widespread, and how many individuals have been hurt or endangered through the use of asbestos.

History of Asbestos Use

Asbestos insulation history began in the ancient times, when this material was valued for its strength and heat resistance. Asbestos experienced resurgence around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Since that time, asbestos has been used for numerous purposes, including:

  • Automobile brakes
  • Fireproof textiles
  • Floor and roofing tiles
  • Insulation for buildings and pipes
  • Machinery
  • Siding.

Individuals who worked with these materials, as well as people employed in asbestos mines, were exposed to airborne asbestos particles. Many buildings constructed between the late 19th and early 20th centuries contain asbestos insulation. History has demonstrated that asbestos exposure can lead to illness and even early death.

Dangers of Asbestos

Despite its benefits as a strong, durable and heat-resistant material, asbestos has been associated with health problems. Even in the early 20th century, people began to suspect dangers of asbestos based on diseases and early deaths common to individuals working in certain professions and conditions.

Today, asbestos is recognized as a carcinogen, meaning that it has been found to cause cancer. Specifically, it is linked to mesothelioma, a specific type of cancer affecting the mesothelium, or the layer of tissue covering the internal organs and body cavities. Asbestos is also associated with other diseases, primarily lung diseases. Asbestosis is a disease in which scar tissue forms in the lungs, leading to persistent cough and difficulty breathing. Asbestos pleural disease causes scarring of the pleural membranes.

Diseases caused by asbestos exposure often do not show symptoms until decades after exposure. Individuals who worked with asbestos in the past continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases today. At the time of exposure, they were unaware they were being exposed, or didn’t have means to protect themselves.

Current Protections and Asbestos Regulations

Today, organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have enacted legislation to protect employees at risk for asbestos exposure. Precautions include limiting exposure to asbestos, as well as proper use of protective equipment, such as respirators.

Classification systems for asbestos exposure have also been developed, and work environments with high levels of exposure are required to conduct regular safety testing to ensure the safety and health of their employees. Precautions should be taken whenever asbestos exposure may occur, such as when:

  • Constructing or manufacturing items using asbestos
  • Demolishing/destroying items containing asbestos
  • Working in environments or buildings containing asbestos.

When possible, asbestos insulation may be removed from a building and replaced with a safer material. Although asbestos has not been banned completely, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned all new uses of asbestos.

Resources

Asbestos.net Staff. (2009). History of asbestos. Retrieved December 27, 2009, from the Asbestos.net Web site: http://www.asbestos.net/asbestos/history-of-asbestos.html.

Asbestos Resource Center Staff. (n.d.). History of asbestos. Retrieved December 27, 2009, from the Asbestos Resource Center Web site: http://www.asbestosresource.com/history/.

Brayton Purcell LLP Staff. (n.d.). Asbestos has been used since ancient times. Retrieved December 27, 2009, from the Asbestos Network Web site: http://www.asbestosnetwork.com/asbestos/de_history_usage.htm.

OSHA Staff. (2002). OSHA fact sheet. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the OSHA web site: http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_AsbestosFacts/asbestos-factsheet.pdf.