Starting in the 1800s, asbestos was widely used in the manufacturing and construction industries due to a variety of desirable attributes. The product offered a number of benefits and very few initial drawbacks. For a young United States, who was just waking to its industrial and commercial potential, asbestos offered solutions to a series of problems. Unfortunately, as is now well known, it would be revealed that this substance is just as dangerous as it is helpful. Asbestos exposure can lead to very serious, and often even fatal, health problems. It has become almost synonymous with toxicity. While steps have been taken to lessen this danger to the current and future generations, asbestos is not a subject strictly for the history books. It can still be found in select buildings or products. Rarely a month goes by when it does not appear in the news, typically in the realm of a law suit.
Initially, asbestos seemed like a godsend. As a product, it is strong, durable, and not easily flammable. At a time when fire was still one of the greatest threats to a city, asbestos could serve as flame-safe insulation for massive building projects. It also displays desirable effects for dampening sound and maintaining temperature from wall to wall. Beyond buildings, asbestos has also widely been used in manufacturing equipment, shipbuilding, and even the automotive industry. Its use had not even begun to curtail until the negative health effects brought about by exposure became much clearer during the 1970s.
It would not be until latter half of the twentieth century that the massive downside of asbestos was discovered. Mesothelioma is a rare, but extremely dangerous, form of cancer that has been linked to asbestos inhalation. In fact, it is actually quite rare (but not necessarily impossible) to contract the disease without prolonged exposure to asbestos related products. Despite the gamut of treatments available, the prognosis for patients with Mesothelioma is not particularly good. Early stages of Mesothelioma are possibly curable if caught in time, but later stages are still considered a death sentence. Because of difficulties involved in screening for the disease, it does not always present itself until the latter stages.
So, knowing now what we did not know then, asbestos as been eradicated from our homes and workplaces, right? The answer to that question would be no. Despite the danger presented, asbestos is not strictly an issue of the past. While most countries, including the United States, have passed bills limiting or banning its use going forward, it is still found in numerous constructions that took place prior to any regulation. It simply is not feasible or practical to go through every structure with a fine toothed comb looking for the cancer causing substance. And, truth be told, if it is properly contained and not exposed to the ventilation systems, the amount of danger present is somewhat lessened. However, whenever renovating or having areas of a building being opened up that had not previously been exposed; great care should be taken to ensure that asbestos is not potential factor for workers or future inhabitants. Should asbestos be an issue, there are a variety of agencies and/or companies that can help with the problem.