Historic usage of asbestos
Items made of asbestos were held in so great an esteem as to be of equal value with gold; none but emperors and kings had napkins made of it. Supposedly, Charlemagne had a tablecloth made of asbestos. Cleaning an asbestos cloth was simple- it was simply thrown into a fire. Some antiquaries have believed that ancients made shrouds of asbestos, wherein they burnt the bodies of their kings, in order to preserve only their ashes, and prevent their being mixed with those of wood, or other combustible materials commonly used in building funeral pyres.
Others assert that the ancients used asbestos to make perpetual wicks for sepulchral lamps. In more recent centuries, asbestos was indeed used for this purpose. Although asbestos causes skin to itch upon contact, ancient literature indicates that it was prescribed for diseases of the skin, and particularly for the itch. It is possible that they used the term asbestos for alumen plumosum, because the two terms have often been confused throughout history.
Asbestos fibers were once used in automobile brake pads and shoes. Since the mid-1990s, a majority of brake pads, new or replacement, have been manufactured with Aramid fiber (Twaron or Kevlar) linings (same material used in bulletproof vests).
Kent, the first filtered cigarette on the market, used crocidolite asbestos in its “Micronite” filter from 1952 to 1956.
Modern usage of Asbestos
Chrysotile is the form of asbestos from the serpentine group that has been used commercially.
In the United States, chrysotile has been the most commonly used type of asbestos. Chrysotile is often present in a wide variety of materials, including but not limited to
- Sheetrock taping
- Mud and texture coats
- Vinyl floor tiles, sheeting, adhesives and ceiling tiles
- Plasters and stuccos
- Roofing tars, felts, siding, and shingles
- Transite panels, siding, countertops, and pipes
- Acoustical ceilings
- Brake pads and shoes
- Clutch plates
- Stage curtains
- Fire blankets
- Interior fire doors
- Fireproof clothing for firefighters
Amosite and crocidolite were used in many products until the early 1980s. The use of all types of asbestos in the amphibole group was banned in the mid-1980s. These products were mainly
- Low density insulation board and ceiling tiles
- Asbestos-cement sheets and pipes for construction, casing for water and electrical/telecommunication services
- Thermal and chemical insulation (i.e., fire rated doors, limpet spray, lagging and gaskets)