Mesothelioma—an aggressive, deadly cancer—is known all too well today, but the asbestos that causes it has been a source of concern since Roman times. Even then, a disturbing trend emerged: Slaves who worked in the quarries and inhaled asbestos fibers died far younger than those who didn’t.
But centuries ago, the material—known since then for its heat- and fire-resistant properties—was considered almost magical, and the worries were shrugged off or ignored. Asbestos fibers continued to be inhaled, and people continued to get sick and die early.
Unfortunately, not much has changed in 2,000 years. Asbestos can still be found in many common products like insulation, ceilings, flooring, pipes and automobile parts. Across the nation, thousands of structures—from factories to homes and even schools—contain some quantity of asbestos.