The history of Asbestos dates back to the Greek and pre-Roman era. Its name comes from Greek terms meaning “indistinguishable” or “indestructible,” and the material was used for different purposes due its strength and seemingly magical properties. The dangers of asbestos exposure were also obvious, due to the many slaves that developed pulmonary diseases that eventually led to death. However, this did not stop the Romans from using it on roads, or the Greeks from weaving it into tablecloths.
The increasing need for heat resistant materials during the Industrial Revolution made asbestos use quite popular once again. It was widely used in turbines, pipes, kilns, ovens, and other products that required long-lasting heat to function. Its popularity continued throughout the 1970s.
It was during the 1930s that researchers began to notice the large number of deaths in young people in asbestos related jobs. They eventually discovered that long-term exposure to asbestos made workers and others around them sick due to pulmonary diseases. They also linked asbestos to different types of cancers. In 1978 documented studies provided percentile data about the number of workers that eventually became sick from asbestos-related sickness. However, this did not stop the industry from boosting production and ignoring the findings of researchers.
The small town in Whittenoom became the centre of attention in Australia for its extensive mining operations. Many people were attracted to it when the Great Depression arrived, and production was especially high during the 1950s and 1960s.
Many buildings were built during the periods in which asbestos was still popular. It became the preferred product for many manufactures, and as a result many different building products were made from its indestructible fibres. However, campaigners and researchers pressed to make the dangers of asbestos known. The Environmental Protection Safety then implemented measures to regulate the production of asbestos.
By the late 1980s the production of the mineral had slowed greatly. Bans were placed on the production and use, with exceptions for certain purposes. It was not until 31 December, 2003 that a national ban on all imports, exports and use was enacted in Australia. Since then, the town of Whittenoom has become a ghost down and steps are being taken to remove it from Australian maps and road signs.
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