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You can trace the history of asbestos back to prehistoric times. However, asbestos use in Australia became popular during the 20th century. Even today, many deaths occur as a result of asbestos-related diseases.
Knowing when asbestos was first used commercially and the history of asbestos in Australia can help you assess the health risks of exposure to asbestos. This post contains information on the commercial usage of asbestos, asbestos history and timelines, history of asbestos mining, and asbestos-related diseases.
You can also learn how to manage an asbestos problem and what an asbestos removal service can do for you.
Early Global History of Asbestos Timeline
Asbestos has a long history of use, and a lot can be written about its past. Here is a breakdown of how it has been used in the past:
The stone age (around 750,000 years ago)
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral on every continent in the world. Archaeologists discovered asbestos fibres in debris that date back to this period.
Clay pots that date back to this period contained asbestos fibres.
Around 456 B.C.
A classical Greek Historian – Herodotus, was referred to using asbestos shrouds for the dead. In fact, certain scholars believe asbestos derives its name from the ancient Greek term, asbestos which means inextinguishable.
The middle ages and Beyond
Like the ancient Greeks, King Charlemagne of France used a tablecloth made of asbestos to avoid accidental fire burns. Likewise, he used asbestos shrouds to wrap the bodies of dead generals.
The year 1280
Marco Polo talked about a Mongolian-made “fabric which would not burn” in his writings. He also visited an asbestos mine in China to negate the myth that asbestos originated from a woolly lizard’s hair.
First Commercial Use of Asbestos
In the late 1800s, the asbestos manufacturing industry started to flourish. The industrial revolution helped to sustain this steady growth, and the commercial use of asbestos became widespread.
Timeline of the founding of asbestos industries
- Large asbestos industries were founded in England, Scotland, and Germany in the early 1870s.
- Asbestos mining in Australia began in Jones Creek, New South Wales. This was during the 1880s.
- The mining of anthophyllite asbestos in Finland started in the early 1900s.
- In the early 1900s, yearly asbestos production had grown to over 30,000 tons globally.
First commercial use of asbestos in Australia
The early 1900s
Asbestos was first used commercially in Australia in the early 1900s. Specifically, unprocessed asbestos was regularly imported into Australia in the 1930s. This was to meet the significant demand as a construction and industrial material. The asbestos fibres were preferred for their durability, heat resistance, and fireproof nature.
1940s – 1960s
Asbestos was commonly used in the construction Industry, mixed with cement for building construction in the 1940s – 1960s. Asbestos cement sheets or planks were popular roofing at that time.
Historically, other uses of asbestos in Australia included the following:
- Insulation of machines, cloths, gaskets, and brake linings for cars.
- Asbestos materials were commonly added as spray coatings, vinyl-asbestos flooring tiles, and spray-on fire protection.
The use of asbestos in Australia was first regulated in 1978. This included industry regulations on asbestos factories.
In 2003, a nationwide ban was put in place in Australia to regulate the use of standard forms of asbestos.
Use of Asbestos Today
There's increased awareness on the dangers of asbestos. However, records show that millions of tonnes continue to be produced even though several countries have banned asbestos.
Furthermore, there is various literature on asbestos and disease. You can learn about mesothelioma research and the dangers of asbestos exposure. You can also get helpful mesothelioma guides or cancer guides if you have been exposed to asbestos.
History of Asbestos Mining
Early 19th century
Crocidolite (blue asbestos) was discovered in Free State, South Africa.
Chrysotile (white asbestos) was found in Thetford Township in southeastern Quebec.
The early 1900s
Amosite (brown asbestos) is known to have been discovered in Transvaal, South Africa.
History of Asbestos Mining in Australia
Asbestos was discovered in Wittenoom, Western Australia.
The 1950s and 1960s
Australia became a major global player in the importation and exportation of asbestos in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Wittenoom mining site was shut down in 1966 due to poor profit and growing health concerns. Other asbestos mining sites at Baryulgil and Woodsreef closed in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Timeline of Events in Asbestos History
According to the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, the following are some crucial events in the history of asbestos.
Major asbestos mining sites were opened in America, Canada, Italy, Russia, and South Africa.
The first medical paper on the link between asbestos and disease was published in the British Medical Journal. The writer, William Cooke, highlighted the case of a Rochdale asbestos factory worker (Nellie Kershaw) who died from fibrosis of the lungs and tuberculosis.
There was full implementation of the Asbestos Industry regulations in 1931. These regulations were agreed to by the Trades Union Congress, representatives of the asbestos industry, the government and other relevant parties.
The Western Australian Inspector of Factories and Shops reported on the effect of asbestos dust on the lungs of James Hardie factory workers in Perth.
Respiratory disorders were discovered in James Hardie workers. The Western Australian Commissioner of Public Health and Chief inspector of factories made the finding.
Samac Laboratory in New York confirmed a link between asbestos and cancer.
The death toll at Wittenoom exceeded 500. The National Health and Medical Research Council predicted a final toll of 2,000.
Australia got asbestos banned on a nationwide basis. This ban included the use and manufacture of all types of asbestos.
The (NOHSC) National Occupational Health and Safety Commission developed the Code of Practice for the Management and Control of Asbestos in Workplaces.
The Asbestos Management Review Report included a national strategic plan recommendation. The aim was to build better asbestos awareness and management.
The first international conference on asbestos safety was hosted in Melbourne.
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency released the National Asbestos Profile. It included information on past exposure to asbestos and measures to manage it in Australia.
The start of development of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness 2019-2023 began and is still ongoing.
Most Common Forms of Asbestos Fibres
The most commonly used type of asbestos is chrysotile (white asbestos). The other types of asbestos include crocidolite (blue asbestos) and amosite (brown asbestos).
In addition, certain products contain asbestos contaminants. Examples of these products include vermiculite and talc.
SafeWork Australia has described asbestos as the most significant cause of work-related deaths. Asbestos-related diseases are known to lead to more than 4,000 deaths in Australia every year.
Research on the chronology of asbestos cancer shows that asbestos particles can cause several lung diseases, including lung cancer. Likewise, there is a link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
Furthermore, overexposure to asbestos can result in asbestosis and mesothelioma. On a side note, links between asbestosis and lung cancer have been established. You can find this information in various asbestos disease medical articles.
The following asbestos-related diseases are directly caused by asbestos exposure:
- Asbestosis (scarring of the lungs due to the inhalation of asbestos dust)
- Pleural mesothelioma
- Lung cancer
- Pleural plaques
- Other debilitating lung diseases
Workplace Risks of Asbestos Exposure
Using power tools in building sites from the 1950s to 1960s led to various asbestos dust problems. Toxic asbestos fibres from disturbed asbestos materials become airborne. Thereafter, inhaling asbestos dust leads to a higher risk of asbestos exposure in asbestos workers.
The asbestos fibres are trapped in the lung cavities and do not disintegrate. This leads to various sorts of harmful health effects. Therefore, keep in mind that there is no safe exposure level to asbestos fibres when it comes to occupational asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Safety and Health Regulation Bodies
Several bodies have played different roles in setting protection standards for asbestos workers. This helps reduce the hazards of exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Examples of these asbestos regulation bodies include the following:
- SafeWork Australia
- Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA)
- Department of Environmental Regulation
- Department of Health
Asbestos in the Home
If your house was built before the 1990s, it may contain asbestos. However, you may need to get suspected asbestos samples of such material tested to know if it contains asbestos.
Despite the ban on asbestos products, you may still find asbestos-containing products in the home, such as the following:
- Asbestos insulation (as used for electric wiring)
- Asbestos roofing
- Flooring compounds
- Asbestos cement
- Other sources of asbestos in the home include tiles, vinyl, gutters, insulation, pipes, and fireproof seals.
Asbestos can become a serious health hazard when its materials crumble, damage, or rip. Most importantly, you should not investigate suspected asbestos materials without inviting a licensed surveyor.
How to Manage an Asbestos Problem
This is an issue that many lung cancer patients may have wished they had solved quickly. In other words, you should not give it the benefit of the doubt, particularly if you suspect the presence of asbestos.
Some asbestos materials may actually be in good shape and thus do not create any problems. However, if there are problems, you can correct them with asbestos repairs or asbestos removal.
Above all, you must only invite a professional trained in safely handling asbestos for any asbestos repairs. Similarly, only a licensed asbestos removal service can handle asbestos removal. This is because asbestos removal can be complex and may pose serious health risks.
Hire an Asbestos Removal Service Today
Now that you know more about when asbestos was first used commercially and its history, you may wonder how an asbestos removal service can help with asbestos problems. Indeed, a reliable asbestos removal service can perform asbestos inspections and take asbestos samples.
After that, these samples may be assessed and tested. They can then make necessary corrections or perform asbestos removal. You can always hire an asbestos removal service for satisfactory asbestos removal and disposal work.