The History of Asbestos.

Removing asbestos

The History of Asbestos.

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals which is made up of thin, sharp, microscopic fibres. The six types of asbestos are actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, crocidolite and tremolite.

Asbestos has unique fireproofing properties. As well as being light and readily available, it became a popular material to be used in the automobile, construction, manufacturing, power and chemical industries.

Even though health concerns have prompted more than 50 countries to either restrict or ban the use of asbestos, there are still many that continue to mine the toxic mineral. The top five exporters of asbestos are Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Brazil.

Asbestos types

The beginning of asbestos, 300 BC..

People have been using asbestos to make products for millennia, dating back at least 4,500 years. One of the first descriptions of asbestos being used is from around 300 BC. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that asbestos began to be used in production on a large-scale.

Mining of an industrial-scale started in Quebec in the 1870, with the opening of the Quebec Central Railway in 1876 following. Many mining entrepreneurs flocked to Quebec in hope they could find out more.

Asbestos in 1878..

Quebec had mining output levels of 50-ton, and by the 1890s they were putting out 10,000 tonnes. The adoption of modern day machine technologies and expanded production supported this increase in output greatly.

In 1899, H. Montague Murray had noted there were negative health effects of asbestos. However, it wasn’t until 1906 that the first asbestos related death was documented. Following this death, researchers began to recognize a large number of people dying early and often with lung problems. All of which were being found in people who worked in asbestos mining towns.

Due to this observation, Murray conducted his first postmortem investigation. Murray discovered traces of asbestos fibres in a young mans lungs, this young man had died of pulmonary fibrosis. It was believed that this was caused by having worked for 14 years in an asbestos textile factory.

Asbestos in 1924..

The first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the United Kingdom. The death of this person led to a formal inquest. Pathologist William Edmund Cooke testified that his examination of the lungs indicated there was old scarring. The old scarring indicated there was previous healed tuberculosis infection and extensive fibrosis.

Cooke compared these particles found with samples of asbestos dust given by A.A Henry, His Majesty’s Medical Inspector of Factories. From comparison of these particles, Cooke concluded they were one of the same, and the cause for fibrosis in the lungs.

Cooke published his paper, and Parliament followed through with commissioning an inquiry into the affects of asbestos dust. Their report, Occurrence of Pulmonary Fibrosis & Other Pulmonary Affections in Asbestos Workers, was presented to Parliament. It concluded that 66% of those employed for 20 years or more in an asbestos environment suffered from asbestosis.

In 1931…

The publication of the worlds first asbestos industry regulations was released. Since then many countries have restricted the use or banned products containing asbestos. Unfortunately this does not stop it from having been used, and means we must be diligent. To view a list of countries who have banned asbestos click here.

In 1943..

A mesothelioma-like tumour was reported in a German study. Mesothelioma is a tumour within the tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart and other organs. Mesothelioma is often cancerous and usually affects the lungs. In 1947, Dr. Merewether found more links between asbestos and lung cancer.

In 1967..

The first successful personal injury claim was filed and this created a base case for more claims of negligent asbestos exposure to go forward. In 1969 The Asbestos Regulations was updated, replacing the regulations written and published in 1931. In the new regulations it stated that it was mandatory to have exhaust ventilation, protective equipment and far better handling procedures. All of this was put in place to reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos by workers.

In 1989..

The United States Environmental Protection Agency finished their 10 year study on asbestos, and announced that they will phase out of the use of asbestos in almost all products in the United States. The full ban of asbestos in the United Kingdom did not come until a decade later.

In 2005..

Asbestos was finally banned throughout the European Union, and many other countries followed suit and did the same. In 2010 New Zealand government banned the import of all products containing asbestos.

In 2021..

Fast forward to today, and asbestos is still mined for in a handful of countries and still widely accepted. In New Zealand while it is not allowed to be imported or mined for, we continue to find products and buildings containing asbestos. All commercial buildings must have an asbestos management plan in New Zealand, but not residential properties.

It is important to note that if your home was built after the year 2000 it most likely will not contain any asbestos, however if your home predates this it’s highly likely it will. If you plan to do renovations on your property, we recommend you have an asbestos survey completed prior to starting. This will ensure the safety of you, your family and your workers.

Betta Asbestos Consultancy

Our Betta Asbestos Consultancy inspectors can assist with all asbestos surveying and sampling. This helps you identify what in your building is actually asbestos. We then recommend an asbestos management plan which will outline the best way to monitor and manage the asbestos in your building.

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