Updated: Sep 9, 2021
Don't get why asbestos is such a big deal? These 4 strange facts about it might help shed some light on the history of asbestos and why it's still a very real and present threat in the modern world.
#1 It's Naturally Occurring
The "miraculous new mineral" of the 20th century was, indeed, asbestos. Many people assume that asbestos is synthetic, but it has actually been mined from the earth for hundreds of years, as early as Ancient Greece. It may have even been used during the Stone Age, with one known usage as a reinforcement material in ceramic pots.
The fact is, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. It forms when certain rocks are exposed to high pressure and hot water, leading to fibrous crystals in veins underneath the earth's surface. These veins often come in close proximity to other minerals, which is why it can contaminate talc (thus leading to many lawsuits against talcum powder).
#2 There's a Canadian Town Named Asbestos
in Quebec, Asbestos was a town setup solely for the purpose of mining asbestos from the Jeffry mine. That mind didn't just produce asbestos, it was the single largest producer of it!
The mine produced so much money that the town hired a famous ceramicist and artist to decorate buildings in the area. The residents that live there today have petitioned to change the name, but it currently remains Asbestos and it's filled with historic tales.
Russia has a similar town called Asbest, which is the largest active asbestos mine today. Asbest has a similar story, and it's now an industrial hub. An adjacent mine is about half the size of Manhattan!
#3 The Health Effects Didn't Come Out of Nowhere
Once you know how long asbestos has been used, it's easy to scratch your head and think: Why did we just find out how bad it is? The truth is, the health impact of asbestos was known for decades and perhaps much longer. Greek historian Pliny the Younger is said to be one of the first to note its effects, although no primary source can back that up.
People began to take real notice after industrial production began. The first death was attributed to it in 1906 with various investigations between 1900 and 1910 finding it harmful. Britain’s Inspector of Factories, Dame Adelaide Anderson, gave it the title of a "dangerous substance" in 1902.
#4 The First Publication Was in 1924
Nellie Kershaw is to thank for the enactment of modern asbestos law and saving potentially thousands of lives in the process. In 1924, this textile worker died at just 33 and the coroner initially suspected tuberculosis. However, an autopsy revealed asbestos crystals and scarring in Nellie's lungs.
She was declared unfit to work two years prior to her death, but her employer dismissed her asbestos poisoning, which her doctor had seen in dozens of patients that year, and put her back to work. The case went unnoticed until 1927, when a paper was published in the British Medical Journal, prompting the Parliamentary equity in 1930 that led to the first controls on asbestos in the UK with regulations spreading around the world soon after.
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