What Was Asbestos Used for, & How Is It Used Today?

Naturally occurring asbestos was once widely used in the building and manufacturing industries due to the mineral’s toughness and resistance to heat. Despite being banned in many countries, including the United States, the mineral continues to be found today in certain industries and products. This article will explore the historical and present use of asbestos as well as the hazards associated with it.

A Brief History of Asbestos

Asbestos has been used for centuries for its natural durability and heat-resistant properties. In ancient times, asbestos created lamp wicks and fireproof clothing. Asbestos usage, however, did not rise until the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century.

Ancient Uses of Asbestos

Several types of asbestos have been in use since prehistoric times. Ancient Greeks used asbestos to make napkins and clothing resistant to fire. Similarly, ancient Egyptians used asbestos to create shrouds for pharaohs believed to last forever.

Rise of Asbestos Use in the Industrial Revolution

During the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was put to use in a wide variety of settings. Insulation, roofing, and even ceiling tiles all included asbestos in their production. The automobile sector also made use of asbestos in the production of brake pads and clutch facings. Asbestos was employed in textile production and other industrial applications as well.

Discovery of Health Risks Associated with Asbestos

In the 20th century, researchers discovered that exposure to asbestos fibers could lead to various health problems, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Despite this knowledge, many companies continued to use asbestos in their products and workplaces, leading to countless cases of asbestos-related illnesses.

Legal Status and Current Uses of Asbestos

While the use of asbestos has been heavily restricted or banned in many countries, it is still used in some applications in a few countries around the world.

Current Legal Status of Asbestos Use

Many countries have banned the use of asbestos, but it is still legal in some places. While most asbestos-using companies in the United States were heavily impacted by enhanced regulation in the 1970s, there are still some products containing asbestos, such as certain types of insulation,

Asbestos in Construction Materials

In some developing countries, asbestos is still used in the production of roofing materials, insulation, and cement pipes.

Asbestos in Automotive and Manufacturing Industries

Asbestos is also still used in some industrial settings for specialized applications, such as in the production of brake pads and certain types of gaskets.

Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Exposure

While asbestos was once considered a miracle material due to its heat-resistant properties and durability, it is now known to be extremely hazardous to human health. Asbestos fibers, when breathed, may get trapped in the lungs and lead to a wide range of health issues.

Lung cancer

Exposure to asbestos is a major risk factor for developing lung cancer. Asbestos exposure raises the chance of lung cancer, and the more fibers a person breathes in, the greater their risk.


Mesothelioma, a rare and severe type of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, abdomen, as well as other organs, is another major health danger connected with asbestos exposure. Currently, asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, and the illness may not manifest for decades after first being exposed.


Inhalation of asbestos fibers causes progressive lung illness known as asbestosis. Breathing difficulties, chest discomfort, and a dry, cracking sound may result from this condition. Asbestosis is a disease with a long latency period and a high mortality rate.

Other respiratory diseases

Several other lung disorders, such as pleural effusion, pleural plaques, or pleuritic, are linked to asbestos exposure. These conditions can cause inflammation and scarring of the lungs and chest cavity, leading to chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath.


Asbestos is a dangerous material that poses serious health risks when inhaled. Lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, as well as other respiratory illnesses are all possible results of asbestos exposure. It’s crucial to take safety measures to prevent asbestos exposure and get checked out if you think you may have been exposed. If you live or work in a building constructed before the 1980s, having it inspected for asbestos-containing materials is important.

Stephanie Caroline Snyder

About the Author

Stephanie Caroline Snyder graduated from The University of Florida in 2018. She majored in Communications with a minor in Mass Media. She currently works as an author and internet writer.