Different types of materials are used to protect people who work around fire and exceedingly high temperatures. For many years, asbestos and asbestos-containing materials were used for this purpose. Firebricks were made to hold up in high temperatures in chimneys, stoves, furnaces, kilns, and other heat sources. Today, firebricks are made of special clay that can withstand these high temperatures and contain fire in the event of an explosion. However, before 1980, many firebricks contained asbestos. According to one expert witness report in the 2000 court case of Ronald Meckes, et al. v. Air Liquide America Corporation, et al., General Refractory, Harbison Walker, Kaiser Refractory, North American Refractory, Nock Fire Brick Company, and Chicago Fire Brick Company all manufactured firebricks that contained asbestos.
When asbestos is intact, in its naturally occurring form or trapped in a material such as firebrick, it generally does not pose a health threat. However, when it is damaged or manipulated in any way, it can release tiny sharp fibers that can be inhaled. Once asbestos fibers are introduced to the body, they will lodge themselves in the chest and lungs. The symptoms are not immediate; the asbestos can lie dormant for many years and eventually leads to serious health complications such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Researchers made the dangers of asbestos known to manufacturing plants and other people who were in charge of workers handling asbestos and asbestos products such as firebricks. Very few of these workers were informed of these hazards and were still allowed to work with the asbestos without means of protection. Many of these workers inhaled the asbestos fibers and later developed cancer from asbestos. The general public, too, was largely unaware of the health hazards that are caused by asbestos exposure, and anyone who has handled or been around broken, damaged, or crushed firebricks may be at risk for developing the same asbestos-related diseases.