Asbestos in Fire Blankets and Other Safety Materials
Asbestos fire blankets have probably saved many people from death and painful burn injuries over the course of many decades. Unfortunately these fire blankets, while impervious to fire, posed a subtle threat of their own to human health – asbestos exposure which is a causal factor for mesothelioma.
Asbestos blankets were manufactured in great quantity in the early and mid-20th century. By weaving fibers of asbestos into a blanket, the material became nearly fireproof, which meant it was of great value in putting out small fires and even in extinguishing flames that had consumed a person. Blankets were deployed in huge numbers by the military; practically any duty station which had a risk of fire had asbestos blankets on the premises. They were also found in firehouses, police stations, theaters, schools, and in many homes as part of safety and first-aid preparations.
By 1979 the dangers posed by asbestos fiber had become clear and manufacturers switched to alternative products for the manufacture of fire blankets. By then, however, many people of people had already been exposed to asbestos fibers to one degree or another as a result of using, owning, or just storing asbestos fire blankets in their homes or workplaces.
Hazards Associated with Fire Blanket Products
The highest level of risk of asbestos exposure was suffered by individuals working in the factories that made asbestos fire blankets, as those workers dealt with the raw asbestos fibers in large quantities. Users of asbestos fire blankets, including firemen, soldiers, sailors, and millions of ordinary Americans, were also at risk depending on their use of the blankets, the method of storage, and the condition of the blankets in the environment. Asbestos fibers in new products tend to be reasonably safe, as the fibers cannot enter the atmosphere. However, when a product like an asbestos fire blanket is damaged by fire or begins to deteriorate from wear and tear due to age, the material can become “friable”, meaning that individual fibers can easily enter the air and be inhaled. Worn or used blankets posed a greater health threat than relatively new blankets. Asbestos inhalation at any level is dangerous, however, and has been strongly associated with the development of serious respiratory diseases like asbestos, lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)