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When was asbestos first used?

The use of asbestos can be traced to prehistoric times. Although asbestos became most popular during the Industrial Age due to its fire resistant properties, people in the ancient world used it too. Historians suspect that one of the first uses for the material was to use it for wicks in candles and lamps.

At some point between 2000 BC and 3000 BC, Egyptians began to wrap their deceased pharaohs in asbestos cloth. The asbestos properties prevented the pharaoh mummies from deteriorating. Also, in Finland, clay pots from 2500 BC have been shown to have asbestos fibers, which may have strengthened them against the fire.

Greek historian Herodotus accounts that in 456 BC, the dead were wrapped in asbestos shrouds before being put into funeral pyres. The shrouds prevented the ashes of the dead from getting lost in the ashes of the funeral pyre.

Certain histories suspect that the word asbestos has Greek origins, and comes from the word sasbestos, which means unable to extinguish. However, other historians suspect that the word comes from the Latin idiomatic expression, amiantus, which means unpolluted or unsoiled. Ancient Romans used asbestos fibers to make napkins and table cloths. The cloths were so durable that they were cleaned by putting them into blistering fires. Legendarily, the unburned fabrics came out of the fire whiter and cleaner ever.

Interestingly, the Greeks and Romans documented the harmful effects of asbestos too, describing "sickness of the lungs" suffered by slaves who made asbestos cloth. Some Roman slaves are said to have used a goat bladder membrane to prevent the fibers from getting into their lungs.

Asbestos has been useful in addition to being dangerous for a very long time. If you or a loved one is suffering because of work-related exposure to asbestos, rest assured that we no longer live in the days of Rome and you're an employee, not a slave. As such, you may be able to seek workers' compensation benefits if you've contracted an asbestos-related illness or condition.

Source: Asbestos.com, "History of Asbestos," accessed Jan. 20, 2017

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