What Is Asbestos?

Getty Asbestos abatement in Australia

For decades consumer advocacy groups have charged that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder can be linked to cancer, and especially to ovarian cancer in women. The company has faced thousands of lawsuits from women who were diagnosed with cancer and mesothelioma after using the powder. Now, an investigation by Reuters has revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that there was asbestos in its baby powder. Baby Powder is made from talc, not asbestos. But talc and asbestos are both minerals which naturally occur near each other in the earth — which means that talc mines can often be contaminated by asbestos. The Reuters investigation found that as far back as 1971, Johnson & Johnson talc and powders sometimes tested positive for asbestos — and that Johnson & Johnson’s executives knew about the presence of the carcinogen in their products.

Asbestos was once commonly used in buildings and in ordinary household products. It was once considered a miracle mineral, because of its powerful fire-resistant qualities. But for decades, it’s been recognized as a potentially deadly carcinogen. Here’s what you need to know about asbestos:


1. Asbestos Is a Naturally-Occurring Mineral Whose Discovery Dates Back to Ancient Greece

What is asbestos?Ed Edinger, Asbestos Training Project owner, gives us an up-close look at one of the most commonly used types of asbestos.2015-09-25T00:05:30.000Z

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral; it exists in various forms. Human beings have had a long, long relationship with the mineral. The first known mention of asbestos comes from ancient Greece. Around the year 300BC, a young scientist named Theophrastus wrote about a book about minerals (it was called “On Stones). Theophrastus described substance which, he said looked a little like rotting wood. He said that when you covered this strange substance in oil and set it on fire, it would burn without being harmed by the fire. Scientists today think that he was talking about asbestos.

The ancient Greeks and Romans studied asbestos and eventually learned how to mine it. They valued it for its fire-resistant powers. By the first century AD, the Greeks had established an asbestos quarry on the island of Evvovia. They had also figured out how to weave fibrous strands of asbestos into cloth, so that it could be used to create fire-resistant clothing and other materials.

The name “asbestos” first comes up in a first-century book, Natural History, by the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder. Pliny called the mineral “abestinon” which means “unquenchable.” He describes the many uses of absbestos: apparently it was woven into tablecloths and napkins and was used to make funeral shrouds for members of the royal family. The shrouds were wrapped around the bodies which were then put in a burning funeral pyre: the bodies would burn while the shrouds would not.


2. In Modern Times, Asbestos Was Used for Insulation and in Construction

Asbestos RemovalDemolition continues with removal of asbestos from the attic.2015-04-20T17:05:33.000Z

For a long time asbestos was considered a miracle material, both for its fire-resistant qualities and because of its incredible strength. Asbestos was widely used in modern times for insulation in buildings and for roofing. It was also widely used in water supply lines, brake linings, and other auto parts. In the United States, asbestos was used in almost every building constructed before the 1980’s. The mineral was applied to steel beams and columns during building construction; it was also added to concrete and asphalt, floor tiles and vinyl, to reinforce the building materials and to make them fire-resistant.

Asbestos becomes dangerous when it crumbles or is damaged: that’s when asbestos fibers can be released into the air. Airborne asbestos fibers have been linked to lung cancer and ovarian cancer and may be connected to other forms of cancer, as well as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Asbestos also becomes a hazard when a building is demolished, since the demolition can also cause asbestos fibers to become airborne. In the United States, building owners must notify state and local agencies, as well as the EPA, before they demolish or renovate buildings.


3. Asbestos Is Banned in More Than 55 Countries but Is Still Used in China, India, & Other Countries

The Real Story of AsbestosIt seemed like a miracle stone, and eventually, the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all started using it, too. Hosted by: Hank Green ———- Dooblydoo thanks go to the following Patreon supporters — we couldn't make SciShow without them! Shout out to Justin Ove, Justin Lentz, David Campos, Chris Peters, and Fatima Iqbal. ———- Like…2015-09-21T19:52:03.000Z

Asbestos is still mined in many countries around the world; it’s still used in many others. In 2015, Russia mined around one million metric tons of the mineral. The country has mines are located in Asbest, around 900 miles from Moscow. China, Brazil and Kazakhstan are also leading producers of asbestos. Asbestos is widely used in Russia, China and India, as well as in other parts of Asia.

Iceland was the first country in the world to ban asbestos, back in 1983. The mineral is banned in Japan, Asutralia, and throughout the European Union. Its use is strictly regulated in the United States.


4. The World Health Organization Says Asbestos Is Linked to Over 100,000 Deaths Worldwide Every Year

Asbestos (1942)Asbestos. Location of events unknown. Various diagrams showing how asbestos is formed. A woman cuts bits of asbestos from a rock. A map shows the biggest producers are Russia and Canada. Commentator talks about practical uses of asbestos for packing etc. We see a factory where a woman is cutting out the required length. We…2014-04-13T14:13:13.000Z

The World Health Organisation says that about 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. The organization estimates that at least 107,000 people die each year worldwide because their jobs expose them to airborne asbestos fibers. The WHO says that about half of the deaths from “occupational cancer,” or cancer caused by the workplace, are caused by asbestos. Asbestos-related disease is still on the rise even in countries that banned the use of asbestos decades ago.

Asbestos causes lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and cancer of the larynx. Scientists say it may also be linked to other formed of cancer. Experts say that there is no safe level of asbestos. Any amount of airborne asbestos can pose a serious risk of cancer. Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they may also stay in the body and cause asbestosis, an inflammatory disease that can scar lungs. Asbestos is also linked to mesothelioma.


5. One Russian Asbestos Company Is Using Donald Trump’s Face in its Ad Campaign

Over the years, Donald Trump has expressed a lot of doubt about whether asbestos is really as dangerous as people say it is. In his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback,” has complained that “the mob” was leading the charge against asbestos. In 2012, Trump tweeted that the World Trade Center wouldn’t have been knocked down if there was still asbestos enforcing its steel beams.

That may be why one Russian company felt that they could use Trump’s image to help sell asbestos. The company, Uralasbest, posted photos of pallets of asbestos stamped with a picture of Trump. The caption read, “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States.”


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