Understanding the history of the material and how it impacts society today can give a valuable insight into its dangers. Mining of the substance first occurred over 4000 years ago, but larger scale mining for the industrial sector started towards the end of the 19th century. The name of the substance is derived from the ancient Greek for inextinguishable and became popular as a result of its sound absorbing qualities, strength, affordability, and resistance to fire, heat and electricity.
It was used widely until medical developments in the twentieth century discovered the detrimental risks associated with the fibres. The first documented death from asbestos was recorded in 1906 and the first diagnosis of asbestosis, a health condition associated with persistent inhalation of the fibres, was made in the UK in 1924. Initial legislation on the prevention of its use in construction was passed in the country in 1985, with the last remaining type of the material being banned in 1999.
Some common ways that the material has been used throughout history include: