Property Futures

Real Estate News, Reviews and Investment

Building Materials: Asbestos

Article: uses of asbestos as a building material, history and abatement.

Asbestos is a flame-retardant material formerly used in construction but now known to be carcinogenic.

Rough piece of anthophyllite asbestos, a mineral causing mesothelioma cancer

Asbestos

Asbestos in construction

Made from silicate materials (minerals containing silica) that are woven into a fabric, the asbestos uses include:

  • Insulation (especially within roof, loft or wall spaces,
  • sound-proofing)
  • Things such as theater curtains and the gloves worm by firefighters
  • Mixing into cement as a binder
  • In the production of floor and ceiling tiles
  • Roofs
  • Ventilation
  • Floorboards
  • Pipes
  • Chimney flues
  • Guttering

 Asbestos in History

Once considered a miracle material with uses dating back as much as 4,500 years:

  • Widespread production and use began in earnest during the industrial revolution.
  • Commercial mining began in the late 1800s where asbestos mining and production became especially popular in England and America.
  • The largest mine port was based in Asbestos, Quebec.
    • The town was named for the material, not the other way around.
    • The word asbestos is actually derived from the Greek words meaning unquenched.
    • After World War II, Japan, started using asbestos for rice production and was sprayed on railroad cars, ceilings and iron skeletons.
      • They did not formerly ban asbestos until 1995.

However, by the early 1900s, large number of workers in the asbestos mines were presenting with lung-related illnesses.  By the 1970s and 1980s, the industrial world stopped using asbestos altogether.

Mining still continues today in places such as:

  • Russia, India, China and Brazil
  • Use is still widespread

Mining has been banned in

  • Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the UK, Turkey, and the European Union
  • In the US, most asbestos uses are illegal yet some production continues in some areas of construction, primarily industrial and road construction

Asbestos Abatement

Although illness is primarily within the workers of the asbestos industry and blamed on intense and long-term exposure, asbestos is widely recognized for its hazards and no longer used in most habitation construction processes in an increasing number of countries around the world.  In fact, most structures that were built using asbestos have had or are having the material removed entirely.

  • There is an entire profession dedicated to the assessment of and subsequent removal or containment of asbestos.  There is a full article about asbestos abatement in our Professionals section.

In place of asbestos

There are alternative materials to asbestos, such as:

  • fiberglass (a term used in the US whereas in the UK it’s known as glass wool),
  • mineral wool
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