THE CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF AN ANTIASBESTOS CAMPAIGN
V. A. Kochelaev
Translated from Ogneupory i Tekhnicheskaya Keramika, No. 11, pp. 21 – 25, November, 2001.
Asbestos has been known since ancient times. As far
back as 1300 B.C. in ancient China and India, priests had in
flammable garments woven of asbestos that they wore when
they stepped ritually in the fire and emerged from it safe and
sound, to the amazement of their spellbound devotees.
As early as 300 – 400 B.C. this mineral was known in
Greece, where it was given the name “asbestos” — inflam
It was widely believed in the Middle Ages that asbestos
is the wool of an animal that looked like a snake, could dwell
in the fire, and was called the salamander. The salamander’s
wool did not catch fire and thus could be used to weave in-
flammable fabrics from it.
In Russia, asbestos was discovered in 1720 in the Middle
Ural, in the vicinity of the city of Nev’yansk, where the min-
ing factory-owner Demidov set up production of this mineral
which in Russian was coined the “rock flux.” It was used to
knit gloves and to make fabrics and protective clothes for
workers in metallurgical plants. In 1722, a tablecloth woven
of asbestos was presented as a gift to the Emperor of Russia
Peter the Great.
The Nev’yansk production of asbestos did not bring
much profit and its history was not long — it was shut down
in 1742. However, the world interest in asbestos has not
abated completely. In 1876, a deposit of asbestos was disco
vered in Canada, and for many years that country has led the
world in the recovery of this mineral. In 1885, the Bazhenov
skoe asbestos deposit was discovered in the Ural, and its in
dustrial development began in 1889.
In the 1970s, the former Soviet Union assumed the lead
in the production of asbestos, and at present Russia is the
world’s largest producer (and consumer) of this mineral. As
bestos has become widespread owing to its unique qualities
such as the high adsorptive capacity, elasticity, strength,
chemical stability, high coefficient of friction, fire resistance,
elasticity, etc. Despite much effort spent by researchers, no
alternative has been found whose useful properties equal
those of asbestos.
Recovery, beneficiation, and uses of many minerals have
a bearing on the threat they may represent to human health.
Asbestos, recognized as capable of producing an adverse
biological action on the human organism, is not an exception
to the rule.
In 1907, the English physician G. R. Murray was the first
to discover a case of pulmonary disease — asbestosis — in a
worker occupationally exposed to asbestos. In subsequent
years, this discovery has attracted the attention of medical
science to asbestos and, since the 1930s, there has been an
ever-increasing amount of publications, both at home and
abroad, concerned with the adverse effect of asbestos-laden
dust on human health.
In the early 1970s, the large-scale fundamental investiga-
tions of medical scientists have provided evidence that there
exists a carcinogenic hazard for individuals occupationally
exposed to long-term contact with asbestos. The Interna-
tional Association for Cancer Research (IACR) has included
asbestos in the group of substances with proven carcinogenic
At the same time, the prominent American scientists
Irving Selikoff put forth a statement “even a single asbestos
fiber kills,” which attracted a strong following among certain
researchers and served as the basis for a large-scale anti-as
bestos campaign. In both Western Europe and the U.S. pro
grams were drafted that were aimed at limiting or even ban
ning the use of asbestos and its removal from existing build
ings and constructions. The Environmental Protection Agen
cy (EPA) of the U.S.A. strongly supported the drive to ban
on the use of asbestos, and in 1989 a resolution was passed
whereby asbestos would be banned completely by 1996.
However, in 1991, the Court of Appeals of the U.S. can
celed that decision because of its insufficient substantiation,
since the EPA:
– failed to consider the possibility of replacing asbestos
by a cheaper alternative material;
– failed to analyze the possible adverse effects due to the
increased use of the substitutes proposed, many of which
– failed to evaluate the possible federal losses that arise
from acceptance of the above decision.
Furthermore, technical aspects of the EPA work were
criticized, since they failed to embrace a wider range of opi
nions on the subject in question.
Refractories and Industrial Ceramics Vol. 42, Nos. 11 – 12, 2001
1083-4877/01/1112-0398$25.00 © 2001 Plenum Publishing Corporation
Uralasbest Joint-Stock Co., Ekaterinburg, Russia.