Asbestos Lurks in Numerous Collectibles and Artifacts
Nicole Winch | March 11, 2021
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral used predominantly between the 1940s and mid 1970s. It was virtually indestructible and possessed a variety of desirable qualities for many industries.
This toxic substance proved to be extremely durable and fire resistant. For this reason, people began using asbestos in commercial goods even as far back as the 1880s. Ancient people would use asbestos fibers in blankets, tablecloths, clothes and other textiles. When items became dirty, it was easy to throw them into a fire to be cleaned without being destroyed.
Oftentimes, asbestos was also used by scammers to make fake artifacts and relics. Its incombustible property made it easy to convince people of authenticity. There are many ancient textiles and false relics located in museums and personal collections around the world.
According to Megan McCoy, a History Curator at the Ohio History Connection, the EPA estimates more than 3,000 historical artifacts contain asbestos. Many of these old pieces contain no labels or warning of its contents.
Here are just a few examples of collectibles and artifacts that can contain deadly asbestos particles:
- Military helmets
- Gas masks
- Antique automobiles
How Do You Know if an Artifact Contains Asbestos?
Determining if a collectible contains asbestos can be challenging. Asbestos particles are microscopic and about 1200 times thinner than human hair. The artifacts also lack appropriate labels on any possible contaminants.
The most common way to find asbestos is through a professional test. However, artifacts that do test positive for asbestos don’t necessarily need to be discarded immediately. In most cases, it is possible to keep these artifacts as long as you follow proper safety precautions. Properly storing, labeling and managing asbestos particles from becoming airborne is key.
Handling these objects improperly can lead to some serious health risks. Asbestos that becomes airborne can be inhaled or ingested by anyone nearby. This may lead to asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma or asbestosis years after exposure.
When asbestos is undisturbed, it poses little risk to the people around it. However, to be safe, it’s always best practice to wear protective gear anytime you want to handle potentially hazardous artifacts. Wearing gloves, protective clothing and a breathing mask with a HEPA filter is recommended. You can always hire a professional to mitigate or remove any asbestos from your collectibles.
- When Asbestos Was a Gift Fit for a KingJSTOR Daily Retrieved from: https://daily.jstor.org/when-asbestos-was-a-gift-fit-for-a-king/. Accessed: 03/10/21.
- Safety Tip: Asbestos & Museum CollectionsMegan McCoy Retrieved from: https://www.ohiolha.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Safety-Tips-Asbestos-Museum-Collections.pdf. Accessed: 03/10/21.