The history of asbestos use dates back 2,000 years to the Ancient Greeks. The word asbestos is derived from the Greek word meaning “inextinguishable” or “indestructible”. During the 19th and 20th centuries, asbestos use escalated, peaking in the 1970s. In the late 1970s, asbestos exposure was linked to severe and fatal diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

Asbestos History: Ancient Times

History records reveal that the first asbestos mine was located on the Greek island of Ewoia. According to history, the Greeks and Romans used asbestos in building materials because asbestos is strong and fire resistant. History books also reveal that the ancient Greeks and Romans used asbestos in women’s clothing, napkins, and tablecloths. Even in ancient history, the Greeks and Romans recognized that asbestos exposure could be dangerous. In fact, Strabo, a Greek geographer, observed a “sickness in the lungs” in slaves that mined asbestos or wove asbestos into cloth.

Asbestos History: The Industrial Revolution

History records show that the asbestos industry soared during the Industrial Revolution. During this time, asbestos was used for insulation in factory buildings and machines. In addition, the railroad industry used asbestos to insulate pipes, boilers, and brakes on steam locomotives. The shipyard industry also extensively used asbestos to insulate steam pipes, incinerators, and hot water pipes. In 1879, history records reveal that the first commercial asbestos mine was opened in Thetford, Quebec. Shortly thereafter, commercial mines opened in Russia and other countries including the United States. 

Asbestos History: The 20th Century

History records from the 20th century show that the automobile industry used heat resistant asbestos in automobile brake pads and shoes, and in clutch plates. Asbestos was also used to protect brakes in elevators. Additionally, asbestos was extensively used in various consumer products. In fact, between 1940 and 1970, an estimated 3,000 products were manufactured using asbestos.

Throughout history, the building industry has been the largest user of asbestos containing materials. Asbestos was thought to be ideal for building insulation because asbestos fibers are strong and fire resistant. Other asbestos containing building materials include:

  • Siding
  • Shingles
  • Roofing felts and tiles
  • Cement siding panels
  • Brick and block mortar

British doctors first diagnosed asbestosis in 1924 when a thirty-three year old woman died after twenty years of asbestos exposure. In the 1930s, medical journals published articles linking asbestos exposure to fatal cancers. This prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the use of asbestos containing materials in buildings in 1978. In 1989, the EPA prohibited manufacturing asbestos containing products.

Do you Have a History of Asbestos Exposure?

If you or a loved one has a history of asbestos exposure and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, please contact us today to assess your legal rights.

Published November 17, 2011 by