In recent years we’ve seen so many news reports on the dangers of asbestos and asbestos removal is vital as we bring our buildings in the UK up to modern standards. The first UK epidemiological study of the asbestos industry (The Merewether Report) was published in 1930 and asbestosis was deemed a work-related disease. Even so, asbestos continued to be used in the building industry the world over and has resulted compensation cases in courts in many countries. Asbestos materials were banned outright in the UK in 1985 and second hand reuse, import and sales were outlawed in 1999. However, the insidious effects of asbestos were being noted far back in history by Pliny the Younger (61 – 114 AD).
You might be surprised to learn that the history of asbestos goes back more than four thousand years when it was used in East Finland to strengthen earthenware cooking pots. The word ‘asbestos’ derives from the Greek word for ‘unquenchable’ and was mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History manuscript.
Persian Kings delighted in amazing their guests by cleaning a napkin by throwing it into the fire. This was believed to be made of cloth made from asbestos that was imported from the Hindu Kush. Many Persians believed the cloth fibres to be made from the fur of the salamander which was thought to be created by fire. This is probably due to the fact that many of these amphibians live inside rotting logs. If a salamander’s woody home was thrown on the fire, the creature would run out of the log to escape the flames. The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne was said to possess a tablecloth made from asbestos and Marco Polo was shown a cloth of ‘salamander which cannot be burnt if it is thrown into the fire’ during his travels. Some archaeologists theorise that shrouds of asbestos were used to wrap kings - the bodies then being burned and the ashes being prevented from mixing with the ashes of the materials used in the funeral pyres.
In modern times asbestos use has not been limited to building and construction – it has been used in many other applications. These include dental cast linings, gas mask filters, packaging and fire proof clothing. In 2000, traces of asbestos were found in some brands of kids’ crayons! Asbestos is still widely used in some of the developing nations, especially corrugated asbestos cement sheets (A/C sheets) used for roofing and walls.
When the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11 it’s thought that more than a thousand tons of asbestos was released into the atmosphere and New York City has requested federal assistance in cleaning and/or testing residences in the neighbourhood of the World Trade Center.
Asbestos continues to cause problems around the world and asbestos removal is a major concern in many modern countries as we strive to renovate and replace buildings constructed before the outright ban on the use of this insidious substance. The only safe way of dealing with asbestos is to engage the services of a company licensed by the UK Health and Safety Executive to remove asbestos.