Over time, this research transformed into one of the biggest manufacturing booms in human history.
Many industries would later turn a blind eye to the known hazardous effects exposure to asbestos for the purpose of securing profits and neglecting the health of their workers.
The Growth of Asbestos Use
The first asbestos pits were likely discovered in Cyprus, Greece in 2500 BC. Ancient scholars, inventors and mystics from Rome to China experimented with the material over the centuries.
Asbestos has high-temperature resistance properties made it indispensable during the Industrial Revolution.
This allowed for the manufacture of machine gaskets and parts that would not wear out from excess heat.
The very first mass-mining project for asbestos took place in the Thetford hills in the Province of Quebec in 1872.
Over time, the output of the mine increased dramatically from 50 tons a year to over 10,000 tons by the 1890s.
This trend continued into the 20th century, with asbestos becoming so popular that visitors to the 1939 New York World’s Fair were greeted by an oversized “ Asbestos Man” statue.
The creation of machines that could mass-manufacture asbestos-cement building panels and pipes caused demand to surge in from the 1910s onward.
Production increased threefold in less than a decade, with worldwide output in 1910 at 109,000 metric tons, 43 percent of which was consumed in the U.S. alone.
Asbestos Use in the Modern Era
After WWII, asbestos use skyrocketed as part of the subsequent economic boom. By 1958, asbestos was used in around 3,000 different product types.
The material was praised for its “service to humanity” and was called “the most important of the non-metallic mineral products of the world — and certainly one of the most wonderful.”
Demand for asbestos peaked worldwide around 1977. Many industries were at high risk of asbestos exposure. Around 25 different countries were producing a total of 4.8 million tons per year.
From 1900 to 2003, the United States has produced around 3.95 million tons of asbestos and consumed around 31.5 million tons. Half of this consumption occurred after 1960.
Even though we now know of the health risks of asbestos, the import and use of the material still legally occurs.
In 2009, 715 tons of asbestos were imported into the United States, and two million tons were produced internationally that same year.
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