Though the fire-resistant properties of asbestos have been known since ancient times, it was not until the mid-twentieth century that asbestos enjoyed its greatest popularity. In addition to its effectiveness as an insulator, the naturally-occurring mineral is also flexible, durable, and, perhaps most notably, inexpensive. For these reasons, it was used to add heat resistance and strength to a wide variety of construction materials as well as consumer products. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains that one study estimates that 3,000 different types of consumer products contained asbestos, with concentrations varying from as little as one percent to 100.
Uses of Asbestos
Seeing a resurgence in popularity during the Industrial Revolution, asbestos use rapidly increased until the middle of the twentieth century. It was not until the 1970s that the U.S. government began to recognize the dangers of asbestos and intiated regulation against it. However, by this time the use of asbestos in thousands of products meant this mineral would remain a risk in products manufactured at this time that continue to be used. Furthermore, its wide use makes identifying and avoiding asbestos difficult, adding to its danger. Asbestos saw heavy use in household objects, construction materials, protective clothing, paper products, engines, vehicles and heating and cooling systems. As a result, millions of homes, offices, military vessels and factories frequently held asbestos-laden products for many years before the risks associated with asbestos fibers were identified and regulation began.
Still a Hazard
Though federal laws now restrict the use of asbestos in manufacturing, these items still in use that were manufactured or installed prior to the emerging bans of the 1980s pose an increased threat of asbestos exposure because their age and amount of wear has likely led to thier damage, allowing these unique mineral components to fragment into fibers which suspend in the surrounding air and can enter the body. The EPA explains this is unlike most other minerals, which fragment into dust when crushed. Asbestos-containing items are often found around electrical wiring, plumbing, areas of extreme temperature, and any other locations requiring insulation. While most of the products on this list pertain specifically to construction or industrial use, there are many items that may be commonly found in workplaces or households.