Uses of Asbestos
Past and Present Uses of Asbestos
Once referred to as the “miracle mineral”, historical uses of asbestos have been documented. Asbestos was used in clay pots more than 4,000 years ago. The Chinese used asbestos in gun powder. Caesar was buried in an asbestos cloth. Benjamin Franklin sold an asbestos purse to his British benefactor. The advent of the steam engine launched the industrial revolution and the modern asbestos industry. Asbestos was critical in the development of effective gasketing and heat-shielding materials.
Due to its affordability and various properties such as tensile strength, resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage, and soundproofing ability, uses of asbestos exploded at an amazing pace in the late 1800s and then into the 20th century. Asbestos fiber was used in brake linings, insulation of all kinds, drywall, joint compound, cement pipes, floor and ceiling tiles, mastics (glues), caulking, roofing materials and various other building materials. Asbestos fabrics were used for safety apparel, wiring, fire hoses, flexible connectors for HVAC equipment and theater curtains. This article focuses on the past and present uses of asbestos. Everybody should become familiar with the uses of asbestos, in order to prevent accidental disturbance of asbestos containing materials. As can be seen herein, there have been many uses of asbestos and to this day, there are still many uses of asbestos, despite the dangers and exposure issues that are now known to exist.
One of the most common uses of asbestos in large high rise buildings throughout the United States was spray-on and troweled-on fireproofing. It was typically sprayed on the structural members of high-rise buildings to prevent warping or collapsing in the fire. Asbestos fireproofing may contain anywhere from 5% to 95% asbestos. It was usually made with chysotile (white) asbestos. The material commonly looks fluffy and is soft to the touch. The asbestos fireproofing varies in color from white, brown and dark gray, although may have been painted or encapsulated with a sealant at some time in the past. Asbestos fireproofing is typically concealed above suspended ceilings or wall systems and may collect as dust on top of ceiling panels. Often times, there is “over-spray” onto nearby walls and ceilings and sometimes the fireproofing materials makes its way down into wall cavities.
Other common uses of asbestos includes thermal system insulation or TSI. Asbestos TSI was widely used on boilers, pipes, ducts, elbows, valves and fittings due to its thermal insulation and condensation control properties. TSI can also be found on breeching, tanks and other heating components. During these economic times, i often see asbestos pipe insulation stripped and left behind by copper thieves. I’m quite sure they are not wearing any type of personal protective equipment. Do not strip pipe insulation without knowing it contains asbestos! Be sure to report damaged asbestos containing insulation and debris and make sure it is handled in accordance with applicable local, state and federal regulations.
Asbestos has the tensile strength of steel and was used to strengthen many building materials. Some of these uses of asbestos included asbestos cement products, as well as vinyl and asphalt products, such as utility piping, floor tile, transite siding shingles and various roofing products. Asbestos containing cement products are the most common group of products strengthened with asbestos. generally made of Portland cement, aggregate and chrysotile fibers, common asbestos cement products specifically include wallboard, siding and roofing, cladding & partitions, and pipes. Asbestos containing vinyl and asphalt has been used mainly for floor tile and coverings, roofing felts and shingles, exterior siding, joint compounds and adhesives, as well as asphalt additive.
Asbestos was used extensively in acoustical plaster. Applied to ceilings and walls, it absorbed sound and prevented echoes. Acoustical plaster was either trowel applied or sprayed applied. Factors that may cause fibers to be released from acoustical plaster include accessibility, damage and friability, all topics for future posts. Using asbestos as a decorative product was common in older buildings, homes and schools. It was sprayed on ceilings and walls to produce a soft, textured appearance, commonly refereed to as “popcorn”. Asbestos was easy to use and was low cost.
Asbestos is very friction resistant and durable and was used extensively in brake pads and clutch linings. It was so effective, an equal substitute has not been found. Some equipment may still use asbestos friction products. You should always use caution around dust that is generated from asbestos friction products. use work practices that minimize airborne dust.
Based on numerous asbestos surveys I’ve completed over the years, here is a small compiled list of miscellaneous uses of asbestos:
* Cement pipes
* Cement Wallboard
* Cement Siding
* Construction Mastics (for floor tile, carpet, ceiling tile, paneling, etc)
* Ceiling Tiles and Lay-in Panels
* Taping Compounds
* Packing Materials (for wall/floor presentations)
* High Temperature Gaskets
* Laboratory Hoods/Table Tops/Sinks
* fire Blankets
* Fire Curtains
* Elevator Equipment Panels
* Elevator Brake Shoes
* Breeching Insulation
* Ductwork Flexible Fabric Connections
* Electrical Panel Partitions
* Electrical Cloth
* Electric Wiring Insulation
* Thermal Paper Products
* Fire Doors
* Joint Compounds
* Spackling Compound
Present day uses of asbestos include gaskets, brakes & clutch linings, textiles, filtration, appliances, electrical products and building materials. As can be seen in the following graphic, popular present day uses of asbestos include asbestos cement products, roofing materials and pipes. When used properly, uses of asbestos today is non-hazardous. Fibers could be released if dry material is cut, sawed or drilled. Proper work practices and procedures should still be used when working with these products.
Past and Present Uses of Asbestos
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