Many asbestos cancer experts, attorneys, and mesothelioma sufferers view asbestos as a material developed and used only in the 19th century. But in fact, asbestos was first discovered and named by the ancient Greeks. In this article, we will examine the facts of asbestos use throughout the ages. We will see what was known about the dangers of asbestos cancer, and when mesothelioma and asbestosis began to be recognized as the tragic illnesses they are known to be today.
Asbestos And Mesothelioma: From The Ancient World To The 21st Century
In ancient Rome, asbestos fibers were uses to make clothing flame retardant. In Greece, the fibers were used to make other textiles. In Persia, garments were prized for their ability to be cleaned over a fire, instead of with water. In China, Marco Polo describes similar items that were "washed" by being dropped into flames. These clothes could only have been made from asbestos. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the fade of the great empires of the east, the use of asbestos seemed to stop.
As of 1860, asbestos had appeared again across the United States and Canada, mostly used as insulation within buildings. In 1879, the first commercial asbestos mine appeared in Canada, just outside of Quebec. By the turn of the century, asbestos use was much more common: flame-resistant coatings, concrete, flooring, roofing, acid resistant materials, and lawn furniture all had asbestos components.
With the rise of asbestos use came the first recorded death as a result of mesothelioma asbestos cancer. In 1906, an asbestos miner died of asbestos cancer, but his cause of death was not established until later. However, further instances of mesothelioma -- still diagnosed as an unknown lung disorder -- were observed throughout the early 20th century, particularly in asbestos mining towns.
Libby, Montana is a modern example of a mining town contaminated with asbestos. The EPA has been attempting to clean up Libby for 10 years, but 200 people thus far have died from asbestos exposure, with over 1,000 sickened. The town was contaminated by a nearby vermiculite mine, its residents threatened by waste products and discarded materials from mining operations.
The town of Libby has been stricken by asbestos contamination despite modern day interventions. In the early days, before mesothelioma was recognized or asbestos poisoning considered, towns were even more dramatically impacted. Yet even now, when the dangers of asbestos, as well as its links with mesothelioma, are clear, company negligence still goes unpunished. The company responsible for the mine that contaminated Libby was recently acquitted in a trial centered around the deaths in the town. The mining company will face no penalty, despite the hundreds of asbestos poisoning deaths and thousands of asbestos-related illnesses in Libby.
The First Diagnosis Of Asbestos Cancer, Asbestosis, And Mesothelioma
In 1924, a doctor in England recognized the pattern of illness and made the first diagnosis of asbestos cancer. At the time, it was called asbestosis and the existence of mesothelioma remained unknown. Nonetheless, the initial diagnosis created a wave of laws about asbestos handling -- at least in England. The United Kingdom began regulating ventilation and established asbestosis as an "excusable work related disease" in the 1930s. The United States did not take the same measures until nearly 10 years later.
Around 1930, the medical community was beginning to investigate mesothelioma, at that time a new disease with strange symptoms and little information. They could only observe the symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, and generalized chest/lung pain. Mesothelioma was not connected to asbestos nor suggested as asbestos cancer until 1940.
What Did Companies Know About The Hazards Of Asbestos Exposure?
The basis of mesothelioma and asbestos cancer legislation is that many asbestos companies knew the material was dangerous, but did not protect workers and customers from these known dangers. Court documents have shown that companies began to learn about asbestos related health hazards as early as 1930, but despite this knowledge, they did nothing to keep workers or consumers safe. Instead, they allowed asbestos use to grow even as diagnoses of mesothelioma and asbestos cancer grew as well.
Although limited through a lawsuit, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule in 1989 that allows only trace amounts of asbestos to appear in modern building materials. Even though lingering asbestos contamination remains and threatens citizens, the modern world now recognizes the dangers of asbestos and no longer uses it as a primary material.
The Dangers Of Natural Asbestos
Although asbestos exposure occurs most commonly through contact with asbestos mines or products made from asbestos, there are also a shockingly large number of so-called asbestos "occurrences" throughout the U.S. These sites are not commonly monitored by the EPA, nor has much been done to clean them up or protect surrounding communities.
An asbestos "occurrence" is defined as a place where asbestos has been observed, but not mined or prospected for mining. These veins of asbestos can be shallow enough that asbestos dust rises into the air, making the name "occurrences" misleading - they're more like "hazards." There are 205 such documented occurrences throughout the eastern part of the U.S., and most of these have been discovered through anecdotal evidence rather than active surveys. The government has helped to clean up commercial asbestos use, but they have done little to control the dangers of exposure to the material in its natural state. Even when not manufactured or milled, asbestos and its fibers can cause mesothelioma, asbestos cancer, asbestos poisoning, and all the other horrific conditions that can result from the disease.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Cancer Today
Although asbestos has been regulated for 20 years, mesothelioma lawsuits are still being filed today because of the long incubation period of the disease. The cancer frequently requires 20-50 years between exposure and the manifestation of symptoms, meaning that many workers who handled asbestos during the height of its use are only just starting to show symptoms. Sadly, the numbers of lawsuits are only expected to increase. Asbestos cancer is tragic, and has been tragic throughout history. But today we can fight back against the companies that failed to protect us, and we can know that the world is safer for our children.