The Demand for Asbestos Alternatives

Toxic asbestos was once widely used in the global marketplace, creating widespread hazards. In the past, asbestos-containing materials were used for an array of applications because asbestos is highly resistant to fire and chemical and biological degradation. Some common asbestos-containing products include medical packagings, pipe and home insulation, friction resistance products, and roofing shingles.

The widespread use of hazardous asbestos should not be understated; home repair booklets published in the 50s and 60s document the use of asbestos as just another tool. The inhalation of asbestos fibers causes many fatal illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. Due to the devastating health effects of asbestos, industries around the globe were forced to consider alternative substances. If you were exposed to asbestos and developed an asbestos-related disease, you need to contact an experienced mesothelioma attorney today to protect your legal rights.

The alternative options to asbestos rely heavily on the specific application – whether it is intended for use as fireproofing, insulation, automotive repair, etc. The immense popularity of asbestos was because of its multifaceted use potential, which is now the reason for the slow implementation of an alternative. Although no other material has been found to be of equal transverse value, safer substitutes must be used to prevent the premature death of workers worldwide.

With these concerns over the health risk, many ask why and how the asbestos industry developed and continues to operate. The connection between excessive exposure and lung cancer was not firmly established until the late 1950s and early 1960s; the industry was more than 100 years old before the lung cancer and mesothelioma issues were fully recognized and addressed
Many substitute materials or substitute products on the market today were not available or were not practical to use until late in the 20th century; some substitutes are discussed below:

  • Wollastonite: Although wollastonite is now a substitute for asbestos in some applications, it was not even considered as a substitute for asbestos until the 1960s, and supplies were not available until large-scale wollastonite mining began in the 1950s.
  • Cast-iron and plastic: Cast-iron water-supply pipe was not the best choice for use in alkaline soils, as in the southwestern United States, because it corroded and failed. Asbestos-cement pipe was the solution to that problem. Plastic pipe, another possible solution to the alkaline soil problem, was not developed until the later part of the 20th century.
  • Wood: In the 1800s, wooden structures were still com¬monplace, and a fire could be devastating for a city. Hence, a demand for asbestos textiles and asbestos board developed.
  • Aramid Fiber: One substitute for asbestos in textiles, the fire-resistant aramid fiber, was not commercialized until the 1970s.

The historical lack of substitutes and the technological benefits of asbestos were just a few of the reasons why the industry was established and thrived. Although a health risk was posed by excessive exposure to airborne asbestos, the use of asbestos solved many safety problems (reducing fire risks and improving component performance), energy conservation problems (in thermal insulation), and construction problems (as a building material that helped to further the development of society). Its use continues today in many parts of the world because of a need for inexpensive and durable (primarily asbestos-cement) products that require simple technology to make and do not require large capital investments.

For those countries that continue to use asbestos in large tonnages, other factors, such as internal needs for inexpensive construction materials, national economics, or government policy toward the use of asbestos, have overridden the asbestos health issue. The bulk of the consumption in 2003 was in Brazil, several former Soviet-bloc countries, China, India, Iran, and Thailand. Consumption increased in most of these countries between 2000 and 2003. Except for Thailand, a major exporter of manufactured asbestos products, the increase probably resulted primarily from growing national demand for inexpensive construction materials.

Where low-level asbestos-manufacturing industries remain, they appear mainly to be remnants of a past industrial capacity. In a few countries with small manufacturing industries, consumption has increased, possibly owing to the loss of foreign sources for some asbestos products. The industries in these countries are not likely to expand much beyond their current capacity because of the negative atmosphere regarding the use of asbestos worldwide and the greater availability of asbestos substitutes (many of whose potential long-term health risks, ironically, are unknown) and alternative materials. If you suspect you have developed an asbestos-related illness, contact an experienced mesothelioma attorney immediately for a free consultation.

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