The first uses of asbestos are thought originate around 4000 BC, where it was used by many different cultures from around the world. The uses of this multi-purpose element stretch from candles and lamps to embalmment wrap and adding strength and heat-resistance to clay pots.
Fireproof Tablecloths – The Invention of The 8th Century
One of the more interesting ancient uses of this material originated in 755AD, when France King Charlemagne requested a tablecloth to be made of these fire-resistant fibres. The asbestos tablecloths saved the wooden tables from burning during celebrations and feasts at the royal castle (which apparently happened all to frequently).
Where Did The Term Asbestos Come From?
The origin of the word is something that scholars have difficulties agreeing on. Some believe that it comes from the ancient Greek term “sasbestos” which means inextinguishable or unquenchable and which could refer to the material’s strong resistance to heat. On the other hand, other scholars believe that its origins lay with the Latin term “amiantus”, loosely translated as unpolluted or unsoiled. This could be a characterization of the woven fibre cloths that ancient Romans would toss into fires to clean. Because the fibres were made of asbestos and therefor resilient to heat, they would come out miraculously unharmed and noticeably whiter as well.
Remarkably, even in these ancient times, scholars of the time widely acknowledged the harmful effects of asbestos. Strabo, a Greek geographer who died around 23AD, first noted “a sickness of the lungs” in the slaves who had woven asbestos cloths. Asbestos was also referred to as the “disease of slaves” by Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher, historian and naturalist who died in 79AD.
Finally – Mainstream Acceptance Of The Dangers
Nowadays, it’s no secret that asbestos is a highly toxic substance. It was back in 1918 that the U.S government first recognized the health risks of asbestos, and in 1930 Dr. E.R.A. Mereweather started diagnosing asbestosis. But it wasn’t until 1949 that the mainstream finally accepted that asbestos caused extreme harm to those exposed to it, and only 15 years later it was discovered that asbestosis and mesothelioma were highly likely in workers from many industries. With the known health risks of asbestos going back almost 100 years, it may come as a shock to many property owners to learn that the substance could still be lurking in many different areas of your home.
20th Century Uses
Asbestos was used in many different building materials because of its high heat tolerance, water-resistant properties and strength and flexibility that was, at the time, not found anywhere else. Its versatility allowed it to become one of the most popular materials in both the construction and automobile industries.
Where Is Asbestos Hidden?
It’s wise for homeowners to educate themselves on where asbestos could be lurking. Because of its usability and the long-awaited delay on the material, it’s not uncommon for modern homes to have asbestos hiding away. While it may not be immediately dangerous if it’s sealed away, it’s a good idea to know where it is in case you decide to renovate. It is during these renovations that asbestos is disturbed, making the fibres airborne and extremely dangerous.
Stay tuned for our future article where we detail exactly where asbestos could be in your home.