It doesn´t matter how much histories recur, it continues being surprising how brilliant and welcomed innovations in the beginning, become over time into something insignificant or even dangerous and forbidden.
Asbestos is a clear example of it. As well, an example of how human being doesn’t barely take into account the risks related to technological progresses, despite it may be harmful or even deadly.
Asbestos is a material made of long and resistant silicate fibers. It mechanical, chemical, isolating and high temperature resistance made asbestos an ideal material in lot of applications: construction materials, paper, vehicles clutches and brakes, packaging, paints, coating, clothes and even food.
Its utilization is known for centuries, although its massive use started since the XIX century.
The curious think is that health risks of asbestos are also know from the very beginning. Roman even knew about the lung disease suffered by slaves wearing clothes made of asbestos. Asbestos´ risks were well known during all the ages in history, but it continued being used.
I´ve find an extreme case of this paradox in one relic I got in Sant Antoni market in Barcelona: this 1904 book on sanitary engineering, which emphasises the efficiency of water filters made of asbestos, whose utilization is highly recommended (1). Meanwhile, almost at the same time (1906), the first pulmonary fibrosis caused by asbestos was reported in London to a female worker of a textile factory.
However, asbestos utilization continued increasing, reaching the highest point in the 1970 decade. In the old house in the village you enjoy your summer holidays there is asbestos.
It was not till 1980 years when it was decided that products related to asbestos are cause of serious cancer. In the 2000´s it started to be banned in most industrialized countries (in the EU it was totally prohibited in 2005).
Nowadays, despite it is still used in developing countries, asbestos is one of the major aims of safety and health regulations in most advanced countries.
But asbestos´ history doesn´t ends here. It is expected that one generation of workers in industrialized countries exposed to asbestos during its working life are suffering its consequences.
What´s more, asbestos may disappear, but other new materials will emerge to astonish humankind in the beginning and scare us later. It is possible that you already met some of them, and even you gave them as a present last Christmas (link in Spanish).