Category: Uses of Asbestos

Asbestos Definition

Asbestos Definition

Loose asbestos fibers

Billbeee at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

What the term “asbestos” refers to is a set of six fibrous minerals that are naturally occurring, those are crocidolite, anthophyllite, actinolite, chrysotile, amosite, and tremolite. Among these, the most common are chrysotile and amosite asbestos.

Any material that contains more than one percent of asbestos is defined as Asbestos Containing Material (ACM). This can include insulation on pipework and boilers, fireproofing that has been sprayed or troweled on, sound proofing material such as acoustic plaster, floor, ceiling and wall tiles and linoleum, roofing materials, ceiling plaster, fuse box insulation and gasket materials.

Although in nature asbestos fibers are microscopic, they are resistant to fire and most chemical breakdown and reactions and they are extremely durable. These properties that asbestos offers are the reasons which for many years its use was supported in a number of different industrial and commercial capacities.

The resistance to heat of asbestos combined with its strength allowed it to become the choice material for various products, including cement compounds, automotive parts, roofing shingles, ceiling materials, and textile products. As exposure to this toxic material has now been scientifically and directly linked to a variety of respiratory and lung conditions such as mesothelioma, its use and removal is now strictly regulated.

Why Is Asbestos Hazardous?

There was a sharp decline in the use of asbestos in the late 1970s when it started to become evident that it was posing a threat to the health and safety of humans. Nowadays, asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen. The durability factor of asbestos which made it so desirable to manufacturers is in fact what makes it so extremely hazardous.

Asbestos fibers are roughly around .02 the diameter of a human hair, they are microscopic and as such they are inhaled easily. Once the fibers have been inhaled, they cling to the respiratory system; this includes the inner cavity tissue and the lining of the lungs. Being as typically, asbestos fibers are quite rigid; they become lodged in the respiratory system and are not easily broken down by the body or expelled.

In some capacity, due to the extensive use of the mineral in industrial, commercial and even domestic products, hundreds and thousands of people were exposed to it. There is not a single type of asbestos that is safe nor is there a safe level of exposure. Nearly everyone who has ever been exposed to asbestos is potentially at risk of respiratory health complications that are quite serious.

Who Is At Risk Of Being Exposed to Asbestos?

There are hundreds of occupations that were affected by asbestos exposure. Some of the industries in which asbestos was especially prevalent include but are not limited to commercial product manufacturing, construction, shipbuilding, and power plants. Prior to 1980, workers employed in these industries likely came into contact with asbestos products. Also at high risk for having been exposed to asbestos are military veterans.

Although exposure to asbestos is hazardous, not every asbestos product is inherently hazardous. Being as in order to represent health risk asbestos must be inhaled, a true hazard is represented only by asbestos found in the air supply, a condition that is known as friable, or loose asbestos fibers. Stable asbestos compounds, such as tiles, intact cement, or other products, generally are not an immediate hazard. If you believe that you have been exposed to asbestos in some way or another, it is important to report it and seek immediate medical evaluation.

Asbestos Curtains

Claude Shafer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Theatre Fire

The cartoon above was drawn following the Iroquois Theater fire, which took place December 30, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois and in which at least 602 people died. It was the deadliest theater fire ever in the US.

The theater was billed as fireproof, however, the fire department had toured it before opening and found it deficient, as had others, including the use of wood in the construction and a lack of fire exits but they were unable to stop it opening and operating.

A fire started backstage, during an afternoon performance when a cloth curtain went on fire, and flames climbed high above the stage, igniting canvas stage scenery. The “fireproof” curtain was blocked from dropping by the construction and was later found not to be fireproof anyway, containing only a small amount of asbestos!

The audience included many women and children and the only way out was down a staircase that was blocked by the many people trying to use it at the same time. As the actors and stage hands leaving at the back managed to escape, their escape doors let in blasts of wind that fanned the flames at the front, creating a fireball that incinerated those still trapped in the upper levels of the theater.

The tragedy was the impulse for many health and safety laws on theater safety.

7 Surprising Uses Of Asbestos

Asbestos

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is useful for insulation for fire, heat and sound and was widely used in the 19th and early 20th centuries until the health problems associated with its use (causes cancer) meant it became banned in most countries. Asbestos had been used for thousands of years before this and some quite surprising uses were made of it. For instance:

1. Burn The Tablecloth to Clean It

Charlemagne

Charlemagne

The Emperoror Charlemagne is said to have had a tablecloth made of asbestos that was thrown on the fire to clean it and retrieved totally unharmed. He may have got the idea from the Persians who did the same with napkins. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos

2. Used as Artificial Snow

Snow scenes in films used to use asbestos to produce the snow effect, for instance in the

Judy Garland

Judy Garland, in the Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz film (1939) with Judy Garland and in Holiday Inn (1942) with Bing Crosby, where Bing sang the classical “White Christmas” song. It was also supplied as fake snow for households to use as decoration at Christmas. Credit: http://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-exposure/products/fake-snow/

3. Baby Talcum Powder used to contain Asbestos

Talc is a mineral that is mined from the Earth and is used in many cosmetics and for making talcum powder. It is often found in areas where asbestos is also found, so there can be some contamination of the talc with asbestos. Since the 1970s, companies in the USA have been required to ensure that cosmetic grade talc is free from asbestos. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm293184.htm

4. Used in Making Cheese

Spores were placed on asbestos for making blue cheeses

Credit: http://www.weitzlux.com/asbestos-products_1962747.html

5. Used in Fermentation Tanks for Producing Methane.

Credit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC533400/pdf/jbacter00821-0058.pdf Page 70

6. Used to Give the Appearance of Dust in Theatre Productions

cobwebFor instance, dust on Cobwebs and wine kegs and in old attics!.

Credit: http://www.aic.org.uk/Asbestsuses.htm

7. In Soldiers’ Helmets and Gas Masks

gas mask and helmet

gas mask and helmet

Asbestos was used in helmets from WWI and in gas masks in WW2

Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2626948/Teachers-told-use-wartime-helmets-gas-masks-classroom-props-contain-ASBESTOS.html