Asbestos History: Though the use of asbestos goes back further, it became most prevalent beginning in the late 1800s. While asbestos provided many benefits in countless products throughout the twentieth century, it also caused significant health risks to those exposed to its microscopic fibers. These health issues include mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.
History of Asbestos: Significant Use in 1900s
Before the late 1800s, the process of mining asbestos was not mechanized. This meant that rock had to be manually chipped at in order to extract the asbestos. As the number of commercial applications of asbestos began to grow, demand also increased. This, along with advances in technology, industrialized the mining process. By the early 1900s, production of asbestos had grown to 30,000 tons annually worldwide.
The potential danger of exposure to asbestos fibers was known very early on. In 1897, an Austrian doctor concluded that a patient’s pulmonary problems were caused by inhalation of asbestos dust. In 1906, the first death of an asbestos worker due to pulmonary failure was documented by Dr. Montague Murray of the London’s Charing Cross Hospital. An autopsy of the 33-year-old victim discovered large amounts of asbestos fibers in his lungs. By 1908, insurance companies in the United States (U.S.) and Canada began to increase the premiums, while simultaneously decreasing the coverage and benefits of policies for workers in asbestos-related industries.
In spite of the warning signs and known risks related to exposure to asbestos, production and use continued to grow. In 1910, the production of asbestos was three times the level produced in 1900. The need for construction materials that were relatively cheap and produced in mass quantities led to the U.S. becoming the world leader in asbestos use. While use declined during World War I and the Great Depression, the beginning of World War II led to renewed interest in asbestos. Following World War II, American expansion and sustained military production related to the Cold War continued the increased use of asbestos.
Today, the use of asbestos is banned in many countries, including throughout the European Union. In the U.S., federal regulation was implemented in the 1970s, which eventually led to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completely banning most use. However, this ban was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite this ruling, the use of asbestos has declined steadily ever since. This is due, in large part, to the knowledge of the risks of exposure. The last U.S. asbestos mine was closed in 2002.
While the use of asbestos has declined since the 1970s, it can still be found in various buildings throughout the country. This is because existing asbestos may not have been removed, particularly in much older buildings. Renovation or demolition projects of buildings should be conducted carefully so as not to disturb any asbestos. If asbestos is discovered, its removal should be handled by a licensed professional.
Help for Victims
Exposure to asbestos can cause devastating health issues and new cases are still being discovered today. For more information, speak with an attorney with experience handling asbestos-related cases today. At the Throneberry Law Group, we provide compassionate legal representation to victims of asbestos exposure.