The floor tiles and pipes in the kitchen, the drop ceiling above, and the long tubular structures running around the basement might seem innocuous enough and very few people give them a second thought. According to scientists around the early twentieth century, asbestos containing products provided the best insulation to protect homes from fires, burns, or other hazards caused by high temperatures, and thermal paper was one such product extensively used for this purpose. The paper was wrapped around pipes or machine parts to insulate them or protect them from extreme temperatures
The long microscopically thin asbestos fibers, which are almost 10,000 times thinner than a strand of hair, can remain suspended in the air for a long time traveling from one location to another. They are able to travel along the airways that lead to the deep lung of the human body if inhaled, and can cause serious inflammatory reactions inside. The asbestos present in thermal paper remains intact as long as the paper product is not too old or damaged or is subjected to modification. However, the thermal paper often needed to be cut to fit whatever was being insulated, exposing the worker to airborne asbestos fibers. Similar exposure can occur if the paper is damaged or torn, as happens when renovating an older building.
The signature effect of high level of asbestos causes a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma. The ban of thermal paper products that contained asbestos, including those made by3M and Carey, by the Consumer Product Safety Commission during 1980 saved hundreds of consumers and workers from this life-threatening disease, but the news came too late for individuals who had already been exposed.