History of asbestos timeline from being discovered in the 30th Century bc, dangers observed in the 1st Century AD, the industrial revolution using in insulation and fireproofing in the 19th Century, 2to U.S peak of production of asbetsos in the 20th Century, and the FDA banning one form 21st Century FDA Bans One Type of Asbestos (Chrysotile in Six Conditions of Use)

History of Asbestos Discovery

If you have ever wondered about the history of asbestos and where it comes from, the key carcinogen responsible for mesothelioma began when it was first discovered in a Greek quarry around 4,500 years ago. Asbestos fibers were combed and spun into fire-resistant textiles such as cloaks, tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and theater curtains.

The mineral’s first name was “amiantus,” a Greek word meaning “resistance to fire.” Ancient asbestos was also found in Finland, where it was used to strengthen clay pottery. Other early uses of the mineral were lamp wicks, napkins, and crematory shrouds. Notable people, such as Marco Polo, often represented the mineral in writing.

Early Uses of Asbestos

From 1660 to 1700, the Royal Society of England, the oldest national scientific institution in the world, published a series of eight reviews and letters on the history of asbestos. The publication of the writing led to an increase in the mineral’s application in products like coats, shirts, and sleeve ruffles. During this era, gold appeared on asbestos paper. The mineral’s properties were often exploited when false asbestos-woven artifacts were sold between the 1700s and 1800s. During this period, asbestos gloves and capes were used in fiery shows to bewilder audiences.

In the early 1800s, the modern asbestos industry began when workers in Italy created a textile manufacturing company, which would soon be the world’s primary supplier. Mass production began, creating products like string and book covers made of the mineral. Around this time, industrialized production of the mineral influenced new uses such as insulation for boilers and steam pipes and fireproof paint. Firefighters began wearing fireproof clothing made out of the mineral.

In 1907, a new technology called the Hatschek was invented to enable the mass production of fireproof building materials. Production and consumption declined through World War I and the Great Depression of the 1930s. After these events, production and consumption increased. The mass production of asbestos-cement pipes began in 1929, enabling the widespread use of water supply and waste lines. The automobile industry began integrating the mineral into brakes, clutch components, and engine gaskets.

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History of Asbestos Use in the United States

By 1910, the United States was the world’s leading consumer of toxic minerals. Around 43 percent of production was consumed in the U.S. Millboard and paper for electrical panels, insulation for electrical wiring, and spray-on asbestos products were some of the materials in high demand.

In 1918, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report highlighting the high risk of early death among workers who worked with the mineral. However, the asbestos industry was still relatively new and rapidly expanding. A large increase in immigration created a substantial need for housing, public buildings, and roads, influencing new opportunities for the industry.

During World War II, much of the world was forced to decrease carcinogen production. Following the war, Canada, South Africa, and the United States increased production to make up for production loss during the reconstruction of Europe and parts of Asia. The increase in asbestos production meant the workers faced asbestos exposure to substantial amounts of the mineral.

By the late 1950s, asbestos was considered a “service to humanity” because of its numerous uses. From the 1920s to the 1960s, the United States accounted for up to 83 percent of consumption. Peak production occurred in the mid-1970s when nearly 25 countries produced the material, and 85 countries manufactured contaminated products. In the United States, production was recorded in 15 states. The largest producing states in the U.S. were Arizona, California, North Carolina, and Vermont.

When did they stop using asbestos? After production reached its peak in the United States, consumption rapidly declined. Awareness of asbestos health issues and new research started to affect the market. From 1975 to 1985, U.S. consumption went from 13 percent of world production to just four percent.

Discovery of Asbestos Risks

Known risks of asbestos were discovered when slaves who worked with it started experiencing illnesses related to exposure. However, researchers didn’t understand the health risks until the modern industrialization of the Western world.

Growing evidence showed that breathing in the mineral’s fibers created lung scarring during the first half of the 20th century. The risk of injury stemmed from inhaling or ingesting the fibers. At this time, there were no regulations or protections against exposure.

Asbestosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling its harmful fibers, was discovered in 1930 by Dr. E.R.A. Merewether. Dr. Merewether released a report proving the link between exposure to asbestos and asbestosis. This report pushed England to take steps in the 1930s to protect workers. Lawmakers passed regulations requiring businesses to install ventilation and exhaust systems in the workplace. The first case of asbestosis was reported in the United States in 1933.

A mesothelioma-like tumor was reported in 1943, and more links between asbestosis and lung cancer were later confirmed in the 1940s. The first reported case of mesothelioma in a worker was recorded in 1953. A major study in 1955 linked asbestos exposure with cancer, making it a carcinogen.

The decline in production and consumption became noticeable in the late 1970s after research led to concern for related health issues. The health controversy surrounding the mineral and new regulations led to a decline in the asbestos market, which heavily affected the production of asbestos-cement pipe and sheets, coatings, flooring, and insulation. Producers and manufacturers alike faced increasing class-action lawsuits filed by exposure victims. Many of these producers and manufacturers were already aware of the risks.

History of Asbestos Regulation History

In the early 1970s, after employees filed lawsuits, asbestos companies began listing warnings and regulations on asbestos-laden products. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted the Clean Air Act in 1970, classifying the mineral as a hazardous air pollutant.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) further regulated the mineral in 1976, controlling the substance’s development, use, and disposal. An amendment of the TSCA regulated how schools dealt with asbestos exposure. After over a century, mining of the mineral ceased in the United States in 2002. The mineral was still imported into the U.S. and is used in some construction materials. Between 1900 and 2003, imports supplied 94 percent of the U.S.’s demands. In March 2024, the EPA banned chrysotile asbestos (Chrysotile in Six Conditions of Use) in the United States, including its import and use. This regulation aims to stop using, manufacturing, and importing chrysotile asbestos.

Legal Action if you Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbetsos has a long history of influence and usage throughout the world. If you have been exposed, you could be eligible for financial compensation sooner than later. The timeline for compensation depends on evidence and diagnosis but will start immediately if eligible. Complete a free case evaluation to speak with an experienced attorney today.

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