Ancient Egyptians wrapped their embalmed pharaohs in everlasting asbestos cloth, and the bodies of medieval kings and generals were cremated within asbestos shrouds. Ancient Roman aristocrats dined with asbestos tablecloths and napkins, which they could simply throw into a fire to clean.
Roman historian Pliny the Elder documented the lung disease suffered by the slaves who mined and wove asbestos fibers, and his writings even describe the slaves’ primitive attempts at inventing respirators. The early history of asbestos foreshadows its rise and fall in the 20th century.
Business leaders enthusiastically advertised every new use for the highly profitable mineral they could find, but they kept the terrible toll of asbestos exposure on their workers a carefully guarded secret.
Instead of protecting workers, asbestos industry leaders chose to suppress or manipulate medical research findings as long as they could. The great asbestos cover-up has led to thousands of entirely preventable American deaths.
Many American buildings constructed before 1980 contain asbestos, and asbestos-containing materials come in many forms. Unless a product is clearly marked, you cannot determine whether it contains asbestos just by looking at it.
Sometimes it is vital to remove an asbestos-containing material, and sometimes it is safest to leave the material undisturbed. The evaluation and removal of asbestos should be left to certified asbestos abatement professionals.