The Ancient History Of Asbestos

asbestos ancient history

Asbestos, known for its heat resistance, strength, and insulating properties, has a history that stretches back over thousands of years. Here’s a detailed summary of the evolution of asbestos use:

Ancient History

  1. Early Uses: The earliest known use of asbestos dates back to the Stone Age, approximately 7500 years ago. Archaeologists found asbestos fibers in the debris of ancient campsites.
  2. Ancient Egypt: Pharaohs were buried in asbestos cloth to protect their bodies from deterioration.
  3. Ancient Greece: The Greeks named the mineral “asbestos,” meaning “inextinguishable.” They used it to make funeral clothes, tablecloths, and other items. The Greeks also observed lung diseases in the slaves that wove asbestos into cloth but did not make the direct connection.
  4. Ancient Rome: Romans used asbestos in building materials and clothing. Like the Greeks, they noted health issues among those who worked with the material.

Industrial Revolution to the Early 20th Century

  1. Industrial Revolution: The large-scale mining of asbestos began in the late 19th century as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum. Asbestos was used extensively due to its desirable properties. It was mixed with cement for building materials and used in insulation, flooring, and roofing.
  2. Health Concerns Emerge: In the early 20th century, the first documented case of an asbestos-related death was recorded. The victim was a 33-year-old man who worked in an asbestos textile factory.

Mid 20th Century: Peak and Decline

  1. World War II: The demand for asbestos surged during World War II. It was extensively used in ships, tanks, and other military vehicles for insulation.
  2. Post-War Boom: After the war, asbestos use grew rapidly, especially in the construction industry. Homes, schools, offices, and other buildings contained asbestos products.
  3. Health Issues Become Evident: By the 1960s and 1970s, the health hazards of asbestos became undeniable. Workers exposed to asbestos began showing high rates of lung diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Late 20th Century to Present: Bans and Litigations

  1. Bans Begin: In response to the clear evidence of health risks, several countries began restricting or banning the use of asbestos from the 1970s onwards. In 1983, Iceland became the first country to ban all types of asbestos.
  2. Litigations: Many workers affected by asbestos-related diseases in the U.S. began to sue for damages. These lawsuits led to some of the largest settlements in U.S. legal history.
  3. Modern Day: As of my last update in September 2021, over 60 countries have banned asbestos. However, it is still mined and used in some nations. Many older buildings still contain asbestos, leading to ongoing concerns and efforts to safely remove or contain the material.

In conclusion, asbestos, once hailed as a “miracle mineral,” is now recognized as a severe health hazard. Its history is a cautionary tale about the potential long-term consequences of using natural materials without a full understanding of their effects on human health.



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