Our use of asbestos goes back thousands of years. Approximately 4500 years ago, people used asbestos in making pottery¹. In later times, asbestos was woven into textiles, such as tablecloths which could be thrown into the fire for cleaning!
It was in the late 1800’s and 1900s that asbestos production and use rose dramatically. Demand for asbestos peaked in the mid-1970s. By then asbestos was used in thousands of products ranging from asbestos curtains for theatres, car brake pads, insulation, fireproof paint, roofing, flooring and siding.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a name given to a group naturally occurring minerals. Rock containing asbestos is mined, crushed and asbestos fibres are extracted. These fibres are bagged and shipped to manufacturers where it is combined with other materials to produce thousands of different products.
There are different types of asbestos. Chrysotile, “white asbestos” is the type of asbestos produced in Canada. The town of Asbestos, Quebec, had the world’s largest asbestos mine, until it closed in 2011². Chrysotile accounts for about 90% of the world’s asbestos consumption.
Why was (and still is) asbestos so widely used?
Asbestos is incombustible, and when separated as fibres, asbestos is strong and flexible. Asbestos, when used as an ingredient in the manufacture of many cement and plastic products, helped to strengthen and bind the materials. In short, asbestos was an uniquely versatile ingredient in many manufacturing processes.
Get answers to your questions about asbestos:
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1. U.S. Geological Survey: Worldwide Asbestos Supply and Consumption Trends from 1900 through 2003, Robert L. Virta
2. Wikipedia: Asbestos, Quebec
** Asbestos Training Manual, Pinchin LeBlanc
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