Asbestos as a Fireproofing Material
One of the factors that made asbestos such a popular substance from the 1930s to the 1970s was the low costs that it could be used for fireproofing. As a result, it was commonly used in building schools–it protected from fire while providing some insulation capabilities which became popular practice until the start of the 1900s.
Where It Was Used
Asbestos was used for a variety of purposes that included roofing for shingles, in concrete, and for textiles to help with making fire-resistant clothes and fabrics. Because of its chemical properties, this material has worked well for fireproofing.
The actual dangers of asbestos exposure were not clear for quite some time and once this connection was established, there were also some organizations which hid this information. Before the 1980s, asbestos could be found in every commercial and residential building. This posed a danger to all of the residents and employees in these buildings, in addition to construction workers, contractors, and others.
The Fireproof Potential
Asbestos was used as a fireproofing material as it is non-flammable and non-combustible. The melting point of asbestos is 1600 degrees, which means that it will take much longer for the fire to burn through a building or ship. Using material with a melting point this high would provide enough time to get the fire under control. These lightweight fibers also have greater strength than nylon, cotton or rayon.
Unchecked and Unchallenged
Because the dangers of exposure to asbestos was not fully understood, it was not regulated. Also, due to the 20 to 60 year latency period, the link between asbestos exposure and cancer development was very delayed. While asbestos was used in thousands of products, it was especially prevalent in the construction industry. After the late 1970s, studies demonstrated a link between asbestos exposure and cancer development which began the shift away from its widespread use and removal from buildings.
After the link between asbestos and cancer development was established, the U.S. Government banned the use of this substance in many products. It is still used in car brakes and fiber cement boards, but warnings are incorporated and masks should be worn when handling these items.