The very beginnings of the large scale asbestos industry began way back in the mid 19th century. Back then if was mined for use as paper and cloth in Italy and Canada. Proper companies sprung up then in England, Scotland and Germany. After US production began in the late 19th century, the use of asbestos became more widespread. People soon realised that it was an incredibly diverse product and could be used in combination with concrete to create bricks and pipes, that it was perfect for retaining heat and made wonderful insulation for walls and ceilings.
However, in early 19th century, employees of the asbestos mines showed signs of lung degeneration and many died young of extensive fibrosis. After many more deaths, asbestos was outlawed and gradually phased out from the 1920’s onwards.
So what is asbestos? Well, it is a naturally occurring mineral that, as mentioned, has to be mined like say iron ore or gold. It is a very tightly wound form made up of thin fibrous crystals with each visible fiber in turn made up of millions of other tiny fibers. It is breathing in these tiny fibers that is the root of the problem and can seriously damage the lungs.
Despite some very early uncertainties about asbestos, it was used in the making of clothing, tablecloths and sheets way back as far as 800AD. It’s later use as home insulation was a huge mistake in regards to health but at the time there was nothing as cheap and as effective as asbestos. Nowadays, other than in America where it is still legal, the general consensus in most countries is that it should be removed from your home as soon as possible.
In order to rid your home of asbestos, one must be able to spot it first. However, the majority of asbestos will not be in clear sight. It will be laid out in the attic or in between the walls or under the floors in big thick sift almost fluffed up sheets. The thickness of these sheets will differ but the feel and texture will always be the same; it will feel rough and grainy, and always slightly pliable. If you are searching your house, always wear a face mask, goggles and gloves. Do not touch asbestos with bare hands. Do not ever breathe it in.
Usually in the attic if it is installed it will be laid out and covered over lying in between the wooden plank supports or slats. In the walls it is usually sandwiched between two pieces of drywall and painted over. As for pipes, the asbestos will be wrapped like giant padding around the entire body of the pipes which is easy to unfurl and investigate.
It is advisable not to try and remove it yourself or to disturb asbestos too much as the fiber spores can spread. Never run a vacuum near it and if you really have to remove it yourself, make sure you are completely covered from head to toe in protection and only cut the asbestos into huge pieces. The larger the better. Every unnecessary cut increases the chances of spreading the fibers in the air.
It is preferable however to hire a contractor and let a professional do it. There are strict guidelines to it’s removal and they can then dispose of it as hazardous waste or, if not immediately disposed, it can be recycled into a harmless silicate glass through a process of thermal decomposition at extremely high temperatures.