Asbestos Throughout History: 4 Questions Answered

Alpha Team conducting asbestos air monitoring during asbestos removal in progress

You’ve heard of asbestos. You know it’s dangerous, and maybe you know some of the effects of being exposed to it. But you might still have some questions about asbestos throughout history, like its origins, or when its dangers of it were discovered. Here at Alpha Environmental, we are expert environmental consultants, and this means that we provide asbestos testing and asbestos management services. We are specialists in the provision of these services, and we are here to answer your lingering questions about this dangerous substance, and most importantly, where to turn to protect yourself from asbestos.

When Does Asbestos Date Back To?

The origins of the word asbestos can be found dating back to the 1600’s, deriving from the Ancient Greek word for inextinguishable, or unquenchable. These derivations give a big hint to the usage of asbestos from ancient times, through to modern times. While the first mention of asbestos as we know it was somewhere around the 1600’s, historians have found that its discovery and usage actually date back further than that, to approximately 2400 BC.

How was Asbestos Used Throughout History?

There is evidence that actually dates the usage of asbestos all the way back to Finland, 2400 BC. This suggests that people near Lake Juojärvi in Finland used asbestos when they made cooking utensils.

Jump forward to the mid-1800’s and the industrial era was well and truly underway. During this time period, asbestos usage began to run rampant, while industrial mining also began around this time in America and Canada, Italy, and Russia.

As the 19th century ended, the use of asbestos was common and widespread. Applications include insulation, fire-resistant coatings, fire-proof plaster, and roofing materials, among other things. This meant that asbestos was increasingly present in homes around the world.

First Reports of Danger

There are varying accounts of the first reports of the dangers of asbestos. One such account from America tells us that in 1918, a report by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics found an unusually high risk of early death amongst people that worked with asbestos. Another account states that H. Montague Murray identified the health risks associated with asbestos some 19 years earlier in 1899. Regardless of which account is more accurate, it is evident that complacency and, in some cases, blatant mismanagement meant that it was not for many decades that workers and the general public would be protected from asbestos.

Asbestosis Discovery and the Toll of Asbestos

The negative health effects related to asbestos exposure did not receive their official name (asbestosis) until the 1930’s. One doctor E.R.A Mereweather conducted significant research on people who worked with asbestos, determining, among other things, that asbestosis was a latent disease – meaning that the effects of it would not be evident until years later.

In addition to this, Dr. Mereweather recommended that all asbestos workers must be made aware of the critical risk posed by the substance they worked with, and also that respirators and ventilation must be used in order to control the dangerous asbestos dust.

Sadly, in many cases around the world, Dr. Mereweather’s warnings were not heeded for decades, allowing people to continue to wantonly be exposed to the dangers of asbestos. For instance, it was not until 2003 that Australia enacted a country-wide ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing materials.

Nowadays, the long-term effects of asbestos exposure are well known and evident, and importantly, there are now legal frameworks in place that prohibit the use of asbestos-containing materials in any capacity.

Despite this, the toll of asbestos use is still being felt today, with anywhere from 700 to 800 people in Australia per year diagnosed with Mesothelioma – the rare, fast-growing type of cancer that can be caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is serious, and the effects of exposure to asbestos are extremely dangerous. There are particular regulations that govern your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to asbestos in the home and workplace. In addition, you can check out our guide to the identification and removal of asbestos for more information about asbestos management.

Need Asbestos Management Services?

As specialists in environmental and occupational hygiene solutions, Alpha Environmental is here to take care of your home or workplace and give you peace of mind when it comes to asbestos. We provide a comprehensive service, including asbestos identification and asbestos management. If you’re concerned about asbestos, look no further than Alpha Environmental, and make sure to look into our full range of asbestos-related services.

Call us on 1300 039 181, or fill out our online contact form, and we will be happy to assist you with your enquiry.