The Weird Uses of Asbestos

Posted on 10th March, 2019

We generally think of asbestos as being used for lagging steam pipes or insulation within boiler rooms, but in its heyday it had a number of unusual everyday uses which were not only weird but highly dangerous! The most  surprising uses of asbestos were:


Now that we know how bad asbestos is for our bodies, it is somewhat horrifying to imagine that there was once a toothpaste that used asbestos fibres as the abrasive. Patents and uses for asbestyos were booming and this toothpaste was marketed after World War II.


Asbestos suits

Most people think of asbestos as an insulating material used in boiler rooms and lagging steam pipes, but due to its fire resisting qualities it was also used made for use in heat resistant fire fighting equipment and clothing. Asbestos was imbedded and woven into clothing such as boots, fire suits, jackets and gloves. Asbestos fibres were certainly released and breathed in each time a firefighter used the clothing or equipment, or even just moved around. A great deal of fibres were also likely released into the air when a firefighter would pull his or her arm, leg, or hand out of the clothing.

Cigarette Filters

In the 1950’s crocidolite filters were used in Kent brand’s cigarettes, which were advertised as ‘the greatest health protection in history’ as one of the first filtered cigarettes. The dangers of asbestos were not widely known back in the 1950s and millions of packets of these cigarettes were sold between 1952 and 1956.

Many people who smoked the original Kent Micronite cigarettes experienced health complications in later life as a result of asbestos exposure. One study revealed that smoking one pack of original Kent Micronite a day would expose a smoker to 131 million crocidolite fibres and each filter contained 10mg of asbestos. . Its is now known that crocidolite is one of the most carcinogenic types of asbestos.

The P. Lorillard Company, producer of Kent cigarettes, ran tests in 1954 using electron microscopy to determine if the Micronite filters were releasing asbestos fibres into the lungs of consumers. The results of those tests showed conclusively that smokers were being exposed and that their lives were endangered by such exposure. However, the company ignored its own findings, continuing to produce another 4 billion cigarettes over the next of 18 months before ceasing production in 1957. Lorillard also kept the test findings a closely guarded secret, never advising their customers of the damage that had likely occurred.

cig1 Cig

Fake Snow

Back in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, asbestos was used to make a fluffy-white fake snow product that was commonly used for a Christmas decoration. People would put it on their Christmas tree, around their home or in shop window displays. It was desirable because it didn’t risk catching fire like other substances used in decorative ornaments. These fake snow asbestos fibres were even used on the set of the film “The Wizard of Oz”. The fake snow was made up of the most dangerous cancer causing asbestos, chrysotyile.


Surgical Thread

After World War 2, the use of asbestos boomed. Surgeons used asbestos thread to close wounds due to its flexibility and high strength.  It was common for heart and lung surgery patients to have their incisions closed with this asbestos thread. 


 The hood-style hair dryers used during the 1950s included a layer of asbestos that was meant to protect customers from being accidentally burned.


If you'd like more information about this news item please contact Sarah Costello at NIC

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