Home / Culture and Society / Science and Technology / Q: How Long Has Asbestos Been Around?

Q: How Long Has Asbestos Been Around?

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

A: Believe it or not, asbestos has been around for a while, and it looks like it’s here to stay (at least in some parts). From the Greek for inextinguishable, asbestos has the long and mostly proud history of flame-resistance and insulation.

In fact, Charlemagne allegedly had an asbestos tablecloth that he would gleefully clean by tossing it in the fireplace. (Information on the incidence of lung cancer among his household staff is sadly unavailable.) In later years, the long-lasting and heat-resistant fiber was used in everything from brake linings, to roofing shingles to cement pipes.

However, in the 1970s we came to learn that our old friend, now heavily in the insulation business, had been filling our indoor air with innumerable evil little mineral shards. Some buildings in the U.S. constructed as late as 1986 contain asbestos in their ceilings.

Here’s the tricky part, though. Asbestos only poses a risk if the fibers break off into the air. Incidentally, asbestos insulation is still legal in Canada, but that’s partly because it’s widely mined in the Canadian wilderness.

Powered by

About Mental_Floss

  • The Greek geographer Strabo and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder both observed the “sickness of the lungs” in the slaves that wove asbestos into cloth, they were in such awe of asbestos’ seemingly magical properties that they ignored the symptoms.
    Good short article though.

  • ayden hibbs

    The Romans noticed that the slaves wearing a special type of shirt were dying from a horrible lung disease. These shirts were also cleaned by throwing into them into fires. Marco polo also encountered asbestos in his journeys, he made note of a magic rug that could be cleaned by throwing it into the fire.

  • Alex

    Some archeologists believe that ancient civilazations used graveclothes made of asbestos, in which they used to burn the bodies of their kings, so as to preserve their ashes only.