As a good fire retardant material, asbestos was used in the manufacturing of fire curtains, also known as safety curtains or irons. After a number of stage fires in the early 1900s, it was determined that there needed to be a reliable method of stopping these fires quickly, before the whole theater was consumed. The resulting fire curtains can be found not only above the stage in large theaters, but also bingo halls, auditoriums, and warehouses.
Early on, asbestos was used in fire curtains because it was cost effective and did a good job at slowing or stopping fire – the curtains were not only necessary, but they also worked. The flexibility of asbestos fiber made this material the perfect fit in manufacturing these curtains. However, once these curtains became damaged, they began to release asbestos fibers into the surrounding environment. Any rips or tears, such as those caused by the abrupt removal or use of an old curtain after a long period of time, can discharge these dangerous fibers. Now we know that asbestos is not the miracle material many thought it was; in fact it poses a health risk as discovered in the many mesothelioma cases that have emerged.
Large theaters are still required to have a fire curtain in the event of an emergency, but nowadays they are made of iron or fiberglass. However, over the years, many actors and stagehands, and even students and teachers, have been exposed to airborne asbestos. Anyone who was exposed to working conditions in a theater with asbestos fire curtains or a place that manufactured asbestos products is at risk. Length of exposure is not necessarily the only factor that increases risk. Some people that had very little exposure have contracted this disease where as some people with maximum exposure to fire curtains had no repercussions.