Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that have been used as insulation material, especially in building products and vehicle brakes. “Asbestos includes chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite asbestos, anthophyllite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, and any of these materials that have been chemically treated and/or altered.
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The earliest known uses of asbestos date back more than 5000 years and were used in such items as cremation cloths and hats and shoes.* Even thousands of years ago, the dangers of asbestos were noticed.** The utilitarian benefits, however, were deemed greater than the risk and the usage continued. There are numerous archaeological discoveries of burial shrouds, wicks for lamps, and clothing made from asbestos materials.
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The use of asbestos as insulation escalated tremendously during the Industrial Revolution (1820-1870) and many asbestos mines/quarries were opened to mine the mineral(s). The use of asbestos was very widespread in factories, railroads and shipyards to insulate from heat and fire. Asbestos was used to insulate locomotive fireboxes, steam pipes and boilers in factories and in ships and in various building materials.
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By the 20th century, asbestos was being used much more extensively. It was used in fire retardant coatings for many materials. It was used in drywall, roof shingles, furniture, appliances, bricks, concrete and fireplace cement. The 1900s show the widespread use of asbestos materials in vehicle brake pads and clutch pads and even in elevator brake linings. Many schools and theatres also had asbestos curtains and ceiling tiles because of their fire-retardant and sound reducing properties. It is estimated that as many as 3000 different products were made from asbestos materials.