How Were Asbestos Cloth & Textiles Used?
Because of its fibrous nature, raw asbestos can be spun and woven into textile cloths and garments. This makes textiles resistant to high temperatures, flames, electrical fires and corrosive substances. But they are not indestructible — they can be sliced, cut or torn.
The fireproofing capabilities of asbestos made it an ideal material to use in protective clothing such as jackets for firefighters and aprons and mitts for foundry workers. Weaving asbestos fibers along with other fibers also improved the tensile strength of textile products.
Workers in foundries, glassworks and steel plants often wore asbestos garments to protect them from extreme temperatures and from burns while working with molten materials. Protective garments often consisted of coats, gloves, leggings and aprons. Employees who worked with furnaces and stood along the paths where molten metal flowed wore asbestos coats and leggings during the casting process.
A 2022 report by the European Commission notes that over 70,000 workers died in 2019 from past exposure to asbestos. According to a 1993 report produced for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, production of asbestos textiles in the U.S. ended in the late 1980s. Asbestos textiles are manufactured internationally, and it remains legal to import these products into the U.S.
Types of Asbestos Fabric & Textiles
Textile products that may have contained asbestos include:
- Electrical cloth
- Filter paper (for juices or chemicals)
- Fire blankets
- Fire draperies and curtains (for use in theaters)
- Firefighter’s clothing
- Glassblower mitts
- Ironing board covers
- Metal mesh blankets
- Oven mitts
- Pipe coverings
- Prison cell padding
- Protective clothing for metal and foundry workers
- Welder’s blankets
Companies Connected to Asbestos Cloth
A number of companies produced asbestos textile cloth and garments, including:
|Amatex Corp.||Amatex Asbestos Cloth and Yarn|
|Anchor Packing Co.||Asbestos Rope Packing|
|Atlas Turner Inc.||Atlas Turner Asbestos Cloth|
|Dresser Industries Inc.||Asbestos Rope|
|Garlock Inc.||Garlock Hydraulic Asbestos Fabric & Rubber #532|
|Johns Manville Corp.||A Grade Asbestos Cloth, AA Grade Asbestos Cloth, AAA Grade Asbestos Cloth, AAAA Grade Asbestos Cloth, Asbestos Pipe Blanket, Asbestos Turbine Blanket, Commercial Grade Asbestos Cloth and Min-Klad Blankets|
|H.K. Porter||Guardian Asbestos Cloth|
|Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M)||3M Rubber Coated Asbestos Cloth|
|Pacor Inc.||Pacor Asbestos Cloth|
|Philip Carey Manufacturing Co.||Carey Fiberock Felt|
|Raybestos-Manhattan Inc.||Raybestos Cloth, Raymark Blankets and Raymark Cloth|
|Southern Textile Company||Southern Textile Cloth|
|Uniroyal||Uniroyal Asbestos Cloth|
Other companies that made asbestos textiles include Armstrong World Industries, Asten Group Inc., Celotex Corp., CertainTeed Corp., GAF Corporation, Koppers Co. Inc., National Gypsum, Nicolet and Wheeler Protective Apparel Inc.
Additional brands of asbestos textile products include Fire King Protective Clothing, Therm-A-Gard, Thermowrap Blankets and Weldgard.
Diseases Asbestos Fabric & Textiles Can Cause
When asbestos cloth and protective clothing are torn or become worn, the toxic fibers woven into the fabric are released into the air. Asbestos cloth may be made from as much as 100% asbestos.
When used in garments, the percentage can vary. Garments meant to be worn in extreme temperatures had a higher percentage of asbestos. These garments become friable when they are damaged. Asbestos cloth in its raw form is considered friable, especially if it was used as thermal insulation.
Asbestos exposure is known to cause the following diseases:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
An analysis of the air quality in steel plants and other factories found that during the workday, asbestos clothing regularly emitted fibers, which exposed workers. If the clothing was not in good condition, there was a greater chance that the fiber count would be excessive.
In regular use, clothing can become worn or cut by pieces of sharp metal or machinery in these plants and release extra fibers. Firefighters also used these jackets and gloves to protect from fire and extreme heat. Uniforms are often exposed to extreme temperatures and endure activities that lead to wear and tear.
The occupation at greatest risk from these asbestos products was the textile mill worker. The extremely dusty conditions from milling and spinning raw asbestos contributed to high levels of lung disease in these workers. One of the first health claims of asbestosis was filed in 1927 by a textile mill worker.
Occupations where asbestos exposure from textile cloth and garments is common include:
Average consumers were also at risk from asbestos cloth and garment products because asbestos was used in home goods such as ironing boards and oven mitts.
If you worked with asbestos and are diagnosed with a related disease it is important to seek medical care from a specialist to access the best treatment.
Compensation for Exposure to Asbestos Cloth
Manufacturers of asbestos cloth and textiles are held liable in U.S. courts for the diseases their products cause because they knew about the health risks associated with asbestos. Evidence revealed in lawsuits shows these companies understood that asbestos causes cancer and chose to use it regardless of its health effects.
Many workers who used asbestos cloth have filed personal injury lawsuits seeking compensation for illnesses that include mesothelioma and lung cancer.
- Charles Greenleaf worked as a shipfitter, using asbestos cloth and rope in the construction of ships. He developed mesothelioma and filed a lawsuit against several manufacturers, including Johns Manville, Uniroyal and Garlock. In 1999, a jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded $250,000 to Greenleaf’s estate and $1.6 million for loss of consortium to the plaintiff’s wife
- George Skleres was a shipyard storeroom worker who routinely cut pieces of asbestos cloth from the 1960s to the 1980s. Skleres developed mesothelioma and filed a lawsuit against Raymark Industries, which manufactured the Raybestos brand asbestos cloth used in the storeroom. The cloth contained between 65% and 95% asbestos. When the case was originally tried in 1988, the district court ruled there was insufficient evidence to hold Raymark liable. In a 1997 appeal, an appeals court reversed the decision. No information on the award was published.
You may also qualify to file claims with asbestos trust funds in addition to a lawsuit. A mesothelioma lawyer can review your case and advise whether you are eligible to file multiple claims.
Other forms of compensation available to those with mesothelioma include VA claims, treatment and travel grants, workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability.
Abatement and History of Asbestos Fabric & Textiles
Abatement of asbestos cloth, fabric and textiles is dangerous because of how friable these products become with age and damage. Asbestos textiles used in commercial and industrial settings is dangerous to handle because these products contained more than 75% asbestos. A licensed asbestos abatement professional should always be hired to remove asbestos textiles.
Abatement of consumer goods, such as oven mitts and dish towels, may safely be performed with proper personal protective equipment and by following local regulations involving disposal of asbestos materials. Make sure to use disposable gloves, goggles and clothing and wear a high-efficiency particulate air filter when handling any asbestos-containing product. Follow local regulations on proper disposal of asbestos at designated landfills.
The use of asbestos in manufacturing cloth and garments declined because the mineral causes cancer. Today, many different heat-resistant materials are used in the manufacturing of textiles and protective garments.
In the United States, North Carolina and South Carolina were particularly instrumental in the industry. There were large deposits of naturally occurring asbestos in both states, and textile mills were established in former cotton mills near the mines. One such textile plant was the Southern Asbestos Company mill in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1920, the company purchased a cotton mill and converted it into an asbestos mill to produce yarn and cloth. In just two years, the company’s profits more than tripled.
While the use of asbestos in cloth can be traced back as far as 2500 B.C., it wasn’t until the late 1800s that it was commercially produced in the United States. Thankfully, asbestos was not used to make fashionable clothing worn by everyday consumers, but firefighters, industrial workers and commercial workers were exposed to asbestos through protective garments.
One of the first companies to produce asbestos textiles was Johns Manville, which began manufacturing the cloth in 1884. As demand for the material rose, and because asbestos was spun in a similar method to cotton, several textile mills that were built to process cotton were converted to asbestos textile factories in the early 1900s.