Asbestos is fire-resistant and also provides very effective insulation. It was often used in the 20th century for many purposes, including for a variety of a construction materials and protective clothing. Asbestos gloves were often used for industrial purposes to protect the hands of workers from extremely high temperatures. They were used in steel plants, foundries, and glassworks, and often by firefighters as well.
While the use of asbestos gloves and other asbestos clothing did protect such workers from the hazards of their work, it also exposed the workers to other serious hazards. Asbestos gloves typically consist of 40—100% asbestos. The use of asbestos in most construction products and protective clothing has been banned since the late 1970s, but the manufacture and use of asbestos gloves and other continued into the 1980s, and it is likely that many of these gloves are still in use in some industries.
Exposure to asbestos can cause several different diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, a form of cancer that almost always develops only in people who have been exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma is a particularly harmful disease due to its long latency period of 2 to 5 decades. There is no cure for mesothelioma, and because diagnosis is often a difficult process, the prognosis for patients is typically poor.
Asbestos-related diseases commonly develop in the lungs of people who inhale asbestos fibers. More rarely, some types of mesothelioma develop in the heart or abdomen as a result of other methods of ingestion. Asbestos gloves and other protective clothing are dangerous when the user is able to inhale loose fibers from the fabric.