The use of asbestos in products to help provide protection from fire first began centuries ago, but it became increasingly more common during the early twentieth century. Asbestos is a very effective material to provide fireproofing and fire protection, but it is also very dangerous when its microscopic fibers are inhaled. Since the 1980s, the use of asbestos has almost entirely been discontinued.
Asbestos was an inexpensive additive used in numerous fire-resistant products. Beginning in the mid-1800s, asbestos was used in textiles, woven into fabrics to make them more resistant to fire. Some of the resulting products included suits for firefighters, laboratory gloves, and theater curtains. These textiles were also used in other fire-resistant fabrics, clothes, insulations, and coatings.
The use of asbestos was also quite common in construction materials to help with preventing fires. Some of these products included:
- Roofing shingles;
- Wallboard panels;
- Tar paper;
- Plastic cement; and
- Ceiling tile.
Asbestos is particularly well suited for all of the above mentioned applications because it is non-flammable and non-combustible, with a melting point of around 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, asbestos is made up of very strong, flexible fibers.
Dangers of Asbestos in Fire Prevention Products
In the 1970s, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) completed studies that led to a determination that the use of asbestos should be restricted. The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) determined that the use of fire-proofing spray containing asbestos should be completely prohibited. However, NESHAP revised that decision in 1990, advising that asbestos-containing spray may be used, but that any such spray must contain either less than one percent asbestos or have the asbestos encapsulated with a binder.
Fire-proofing spray was particularly dangerous because it is a wet, foam-like material upon its application. As the spray dries, it becomes much more friable, which means it becomes more susceptible to crumbling. Additionally, over time, the spray continues to dry out and become even more friable.
It is important to note that the specific level of asbestos content varies by the particular product. For example, ceiling tiles averaged around ten percent asbestos, whereas some textiles were made entirely of asbestos. The occupations at the highest risk of exposure are construction workers and firefighters. This is because renovation projects or a fire can lead to the damage and disturbance of fibers.
Asbestos becomes dangerous when its microscopic fibers are released into the air and breathed into the lungs. Exposure to these fibers can lead to the development of serious diseases, including mesothelioma and other cancers. While the use of asbestos was largely discontinued in the 1980s, products containing asbestos still exist in many homes and other buildings today.
The use of asbestos was extremely common for much of the twentieth century, which caused many people to be exposed to dangerous fibers. For information about the legal remedies available to victims of exposure to asbestos, contact an experienced attorney today. At the Throneberry Law Group, we will travel to you to help.