History of Asbestos
The history of asbestos and it discovery as a viable product dates back to ancient times starting first with the Greeks about 3000 BC. The word is thought to mean “inextinguishable” or “indestructible”. Chrysotile, one of the most common forms of asbestos is derived from other Greek words, chrysos, meaning gold and tilos meaning fiber, gold fiber. Evvoia, a Greek island is thought to be the first quarry where this precious substance was first mined. The Greeks were the first to discovered asbestos as a flame retardant product to be used in cooking and adapted for many other uses. Additionally, asbestos can be traced back to Roman references as well as its discovered use in pottery in Scandinavia around 2500 BC. Throughout ancient history, because of its ability to withstand heat, asbestos was used in many different products including clothing, tablecloths, burial shrouds, wicks in candles and lamps, paper, building materials, etc. Medieval applications included insulation in armor as well as containing flaming pitch and tar bags catapulted during battles. So widespread was the use of asbestos in products that its use covered the entire ancient world, from China and India to Western Europe and North Africa.
It was not until the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century that asbestos, as a mined product, found its most prolific uses in manufacturing, because of its heat and strengthening properties and bonding agents. This broaden use and mining of asbestos expanded its deadly exposure to workers and miners of the time.
Asbestos is a flexible, long strand fiber, that occurs naturally in six different minerals including amosite (brown asbestos), chrysotile (white asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos) and the varieties tremolite, actinolite and anthophllite. Mining of these products occurred on almost every continent, in China, Germany, Russia, Finland, Italy, England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, Africa and most importantly for North American manufacturing, Canada and the United States.