History of Asbestos

The use of asbestos in human culture dates back to 4,500 years ago, in the Lake Juojärvi region in East Finland. The people during that civilization used the asbestos to strengthen their earthenware pots and cooking utensils. The Ancient Greeks named the fibrous crystal, asbestos which means “inextinguishable”.

The Greeks used asbestos for the funeral dresses used in the cremation of their dead, and as napkins.

The wealthy Persians used the asbestos to amuse their guests, by cleaning a cloth through exposing it to fire. Because of this extraordinary quality, the Romans called it amiantos which means “pure” or “undefiled”. Along with the use of asbestos came its side effects on the health of the people exposed to it. It was said that those who inhaled the substance suffered illnesses of the lungs. Pliny, a Roman historian noted that the slaves who wore asbestos cloth weaken and died.

There was a decline in the use of asbestos in the Middle Ages, though Charlemagne, a Roman emperor had his tablecloths made in asbestos and Marco Polo recounted his encounters with “the cloth that doesn’t burn in fire”.

The asbestos was used again back in the 1700’s but only became more popular and widespread during the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800’s. It was used as insulation in the US and Canada. In the middle of the 20th century, it was used as fire retardant coatings, concrete, brick, pipes and fireplace cement. It was used as pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, for fireproof drywall, flooring, and roofing. In the increase in the number of its uses, researchers started to notice its increasing health risks. Number of deaths and lung problems raised in the areas where asbestos was mined.

Early Legislation Regarding Asbestos

In 1906, the first death attributed to asbestos was documented. In 1917 and 1918, studies in the United States by Prudential Insurance Company in the US observed the premature death of people who are working in the asbestos industry. In 1924, the first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in UK. The UK government commissioned Mereweather and Price to investigate and report about the health of workers exposed to asbestos. It was discovered that exposure to asbestos lead to asbestosis, thus Asbestos Industry regulations were published, directed toward the regulation in the use of asbestos and observance of proper ventilation in the manufacturing industries. United States followed ten years later.

The Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 implied the use of overalls and masks by the workers and the installation of exhaust ventilation in the work area to allow the escape of asbestos dust. Though the act was implemented on British asbestos industry from 1931 to 1970, it failed to prevent the deaths of the British workers. Death caused by asbestos tolled to 235 in Britain, 16 in France and 30 in Italy.

The flaw in the act was that it only covered the workers under the asbestos industry worker and failed to see the prolonged effects it has on boilermakers, shipyard workers and plumbers who were also exposed to the substance. The Factories Act 1961 addressed this problem and covered other victims of asbestos.

In 1967, the first personal injury compensation was claimed by the victims of negligent exposure to asbestos.

The Asbestos Regulations 1969 were patterned under The Factories Act 1961 and were the improved. It gave a more comprehensive understanding of who the qualified victims are. This included not only the workers of the asbestos industry, but as well as those who are negligently overlooked victims who were also exposed to the substance, staff in factories, power stations, warehouses, institutions and other premises. This made the owners of the asbestos industry more responsible with the people who can be affected directly and indirectly by the substance.

In 1970, UK voluntarily banned the import of blue asbestos. Four years later, The Health & Safety Work Act was drafted to protect the employees,. It stated that employees should not be exposed to health and safety risk and that the employer must inform them of the health risks of the industry.

In 1980, Britain banned the brown asbestos. Banning two kinds of asbestos stirred the speculation that the blue and brown asbestos were more dangerous than the white asbestos, which will be proven untrue later on.

The Asbestos Licensing Regulation was implemented in 1983. This required the asbestos industry in insulation or coating to get a license from HSE. In 1985, Asbestos Prohibition regulations banned the use and import of blue and brown asbestos and all other products containing them. It didn’t allow the spraying of asbestos and installation of asbestos insulation. It was amended in 1987 and required labeling of products that contain the blue and crown asbestos and to give information on how to handle the product properly to avoid health risks. The act also enforced that industry employers should protect their employees from the risk of asbestos related illnesses, and that protection from the harmful substance, asbestos, should not only be limited to the people in the workplace, but as well as to the visitors and people who are within close range. Employers must provide their employees with protective clothing.

Asbestos Regulations In Today’s Modern World

In 1990, The Control of Asbestos in the Air Regulation was created to limit the emission of asbestos 0.1 mg/m3 to the air. The regulation was amended in 1992, and on that same year, The Asbestos Prohibition Regulations 1992 replaced the 1985 regulations and extended the coverage of prohibited asbestos substances from brown and blue asbestos to white asbestos found in sealants, fillers, mortars, decorative products in powder form, roofing and road surfacing.

The Asbestos Prohibition Regulations 1999 encompassed more products prohibited because of asbestos content, which included brake linings. In 2002, The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations enforced the inspection of buildings suspected to contain asbestos in its structure. It looked into the year it was built and the possibility that some materials used contained asbestos.

In 2006, The Control of Asbestos Regulations merged the The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002; The Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983; and The Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1992 into one set of asbestos regulations.

Stricter rules were implemented and some regulations were revised and improved to address the asbestos health problems that have been harming the health of people ever since.

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