When Did We Find Out Asbestos Was Dangerous?

Asbestos has been used in buildings since the late 1800s for its insulation and fire resistant properties.

Its uses expanded to pipe and ceiling insulation, fireproof drywall and flooring, lawn furniture and automotive brakes.

I used to have stippled paint on my bedroom walls that likely included asbestos.

By the early 1900s, researchers started noticing early deaths and lung problems in asbestos mining towns.

Spreading asbestos mixture on boiler of a loco...

The first documented death was in 1906.

By 1918, life insurance companies were routinely denying coverage to asbestos workers.

The first lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers were filed in 1929.

Although asbestos companies and government industry officials began to realize the dangers in the 1930s, it wasn’t until court cases were being brought against them in the 1970s that it was revealed they had kept this information from the public.

All types of asbestos are now known to be carcinogenic.

Asbestos was phased out of building materials in the 1970s and 1980s.

Building materials in homes that used to have asbestos included:

  • Stiple paint for textured walls and ceilings
  • Vinyl floor tiles and sheet flooring
  • Window putty
  • Cement board
  • Furnace tape
  • Stucco
  • Fireproofing and acoustic materials.

Although living in a house or working in a building gives you some exposure, those who are most at risk are those disturbing the material, for construction, cleaning or maintenance, for instance, as well as fire fighters.

I remember when we realized the vinyl floor in our basement had asbestos in it.

In my search to find a remediation company I was told that, for a ridiculously high price, I could get the tile removed, but I would be better served to remove it myself.

I was only going to do one job, so wouldn’t be exposed over a long time and would be relatively safe.

The remediation workers, by contrast, who were doing this kind of job every day, had to wear hazardous material suits for protection.

I put on a mask and pulled up all the tiles myself.

It wasn’t long after that I was in the Pentagon.

They were draping one corridor at a time with plastic sheeting to reduce the spread of the airborne particles while they pulled up all the tile flooring and replaced it.

Fairfax County, Virginia, where I lived for 24 years, was found in the 1970s to have a high level of naturally occurring asbestos in the soil.

Uncovered during testing by EPA, the county monitored air quality, took steps to ensure the safe removal of affected soil during construction, required the layering of six inches of other soil on top when the soil was disturbed during development and added protection of construction workers.

Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have an increased risk for lung cancer.

Asbestos is now known to be related to three health problems:

  • Asbestiosis – scarring of the lungs from asbestos fibers
  • Mesothelioma – cancer of the lining of the lungs, chest cavity, and sac surrounding the heart
  • Cancer – lung, gastrointestinal tract, kidney, larynx

For this reason, and because there may be a 15-30-year lag time before these conditions show up, lawsuits continue to seek damages for workers affected.

Separating out false claims and determining how to apportion liability among several workplaces has kept these lawsuits in the courts for what has been called the longest lawsuit in U.S. history.

Although some countries ban its use outright, the U.S. does not ban asbestos.

It does regulate asbestos under the 1970 Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Have you ever been exposed to asbestos?

Did you ever do anything to remove asbestos from your home?

Do you know anyone who has been affected by exposure to asbestos?

To you and the continuing efforts to ensure your grandchildren breathe clean air.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru, Grandma to two awesome grandchildren

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers





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