Asbestos has been used in textiles dating as far back as the time of the Roman Empire. Cloths containing this mineral were said to be easy to clean and more durable than fabric without asbestos. In stories dating back to that era, it is believed that after the use of an asbestos cloth, it would be thrown into the fire and would come out perfectly clean and unharmed.
Time has changed many things since the Roman Empire. In the 20th century, asbestos was used in the manufacture of a wide range of textile cloths including blankets, curtains and garments. People who have worked from many various industries could have possibly been exposed to asbestos by wearing, working with or manufacturing these cloths. Because of its heat resistant properties and durability, asbestos was woven directly into the fabric or sprayed onto the fabric after it was woven. These asbestos cloths did serve the purpose of protection from heat and fire; however, the users were unaware of the dangers posed by asbestos.
Any tears or damage done to these cloths would have released asbestos fibers into the air, to be possibly inhaled by a worker. When inhaled, asbestos fiber can cause diseases such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. Asbestos diseases can be latent for up to 50 years, leading to diagnoses of cancer in late stages that have progressed too far to be treated.
The companies who manufactured and used products that contained asbestos may have known the dangers of exposure to asbestos. However, until 1977 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission mandated warning labels on all asbestos products, many of these companies did nothing to warn employees or consumers of the health hazards associated with asbestos. Thousands of people could have been spared the agony of asbestos cancer if their employers had properly informed them.