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When a great idea kills

People wearing PPE disposing of Abestos

Mercury is great for purifying other metals, it can dissolve gold and silver to purify or make an alloy. A few hundred years ago, mercury was used by Chinese emperors and nobles to promote health. Many, such as Qin Shi Huang, who took mercury pills for immortality, died from its use. In Spain in the 17th century, slave mining was used to get mercury. Parents were known to maim or dismember their children so they didn’t have to get mercury poisoning in the mines. Many know that the saying ‘mad as a hatter’ refers to severe behaviour changes that hat makers in the 18th century experienced due to the use of mercury. It was still used medically well into the 19th century, before recently being avoided and replaced, in things like thermometers.

In the early 1900s, watches were coated with luminous paint, so they shone in the dark. They were used by soldiers in the first world war. This was done by using Radium, which is highly radioactive. The women painting the watches in factories were told that the Radium paint was harmless, and were told to ‘point’ their brushes on their lips or tongue. The paint ended up on their face, teeth, and fingernails. Radiation poisoning causes internal bleeding, cancer, seizures and burns. The surviving women eventually won a court battle.

Some types of asbestos were banned in the 80s, however, there was not a total ban on asbestos use in construction in the UK until 1999.

Asbestos has been around for at least 4,500 years and has been incredibly useful as an insulator with a high melting point (it doesn’t burn in a fire). It’s strong, cheap, insulating, fire-resistant, and sound-absorbing. Thousands of years ago it was used to burn the bodies of kings in, to make kitchen utensils, and may have been used as a cure for itching. 

Over the last 200 years, Asbestos has been mined in huge quantities (it’s naturally occurring) used in clothing irons, cement, mattresses, sprayed onto ceilings, used as pipe insulation and more. 

Asbestos use actually grew from the 1930s, and peaked around 1970, with way over one hundred thousand tons of Asbestos imported to the UK every single year.

We now know the catastrophic consequences of Asbestos exposure, including a type of cancer called mesothelioma. This kills thousands a year and is only one of many known problems. The number of deaths is rising due to the long delay between exposure and poor health. This affects a lot of us in the UK. Many of us know someone who worked in contact with asbestos, often now with mesothelioma or asbestosis. 

It’s still widespread in businesses and homes around the country, with a risk register often detailing the dangers in businesses. 

The biggest way to combat further damage is awareness. Awareness for those who may come across asbestos accidentally or unexpectedly. Awareness of what to do if you ever encounter it, down to how to determine whether it is asbestos, and how to reduce the risk.

Our IOSH and IATP Approved Asbestos Awareness Training takes just 30 minutes to complete and you can try it for free today! 

Asbestos awareness training