One safety product used mainly in large public office buildings was firefoil panels. If a fire occurs, these panels keep the fire contained to the areas that contain the panels. They are resistant to fire and up until the dangers of exposure to this mineral were widely known, the firefoil panels were made with asbestos. When a building is under construction, firefoil panels are put into the walls and ceilings to prevent fire from spreading. According to a 1939 Philip Carey catalogue, firefoil panels were used “For Construction of Bulkheads, Air Conditioning Housings, Air Cooled boiler Walls, Industrial Oven Walls, Large Air ducts, etc.)”
There are many reasons that asbestos was used to make these firefoil panels. It is tough, naturally resistant to heat and fire, and affordable. But today it is well known that asbestos presents health hazards and is the cause of diseases like mesothelioma. This is a cancer that affects the lining of organs like the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is rare, but in the 1990s, the number of deaths from mesothelioma per year rose to 3,000.
Firefoil panels today are made with products other than asbestos, but it is possible that there are some older buildings in which the original asbestos firefoil panels have not been replaced. The workers who installed these asbestos firefoil panels as well as those people who made them are at a greater risk of having an illness related to asbestos and the symptoms can take decades to appear.