Unusual Uses of Asbestos

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Although widely acknowledged as a hazardous building material, there has been a multitude of unusual uses of asbestos throughout its history. Some may have practical foundations, whereas others seem more sublime. This article explores the variety of uses of asbestos throughout the centuries.

Beauty

Asbestos has previously been used in several health and beauty products for a variety of reasons. The thought of using this material in any personal care product is now astonishing, but in previous decades asbestos was used as an abrasion material in toothpaste as well as a heat protection layer in old style hairdryers. Asbestos has also been known to be used in make up manufacturing and products as well as fibres being used in talcum powder.

Household Items

Because of it’s heat and fire protective properties, asbestos was widely used in household items throughout the centuries. Previous uses have included: heat protection elements in irons, fibres were manufactured into wallpaper and paper lining, telephones and toilet cisterns and small elements were used to produce bleach and other cleaning products.

From the 1930s, asbestos was used to make fake snow and this was introduced into many houses by way of Christmas decorations. The product was even used in scenes of The Wizard of Oz and Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’.

Asbestos was often used in flooring options by way of providing backing, under flooring or for products such as linoleum.

Again, because of its fire retardancy, asbestos was used as wall paint for a number of years. Believed to be an innovation in safe household decoration, asbestos was marketed as an excellent option for renovating tired walls.

“From the 1930s, asbestos was used to make fake snow and this was introduced into many houses by way of Christmas decorations.”

Cigarettes

One of the most unusual uses of asbestos – from the 1950s, cigarette manufacturers sought to develop their products and increase their safety, which brought about the inclusion of asbestos! Asbestos was used in the filters of masses of cigarettes and was praised for it’s revolutionary health benefits.

Medical

Asbestos thread was widely used by doctors by way of stitching patients after operations. Due to the flexibility and strength of the thread, this product was considered to be an excellent choice for the medical industry. Somewhat ironically, one of the prime surgerys that this thread would be used in was that of lung operations following World War 2.

Ornamental

The first known uses of asbestos date back to around 2500 BC, when the material was used in the production of clay. The clay was used to make wares for the home such as bowls and pots. This practice continued throughout all major civilisations and including the manufacture of ornamental pieces and utensils.

Fashion

One of the most famous examples of an unusual use of asbestos relates to a young Benjamin Franklin. At the age of 19, Franklin travelled to England and carried with him an asbestos purse. Whilst in England, he sold the purse to a collector of natural history objects, Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane’s collection was later donated to the British Museum and the purse still resides there.

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Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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