Most people know that the UK construction industry used asbestos heavily in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. However, there were many other uses for the ‘wonder product’ and some of them may surprise you. Some of these uses are particularly worrying now that the dangers of asbestos are well known.


Perhaps one of the most shocking uses of asbestos, given that it can cause the incurable cancer, mesothelioma, is in toothpaste. Following World War II there was a great industrial surge. Companies were inventing new products left, right and center. Due to their abrasive nature, toothpaste had asbestos fibres added to it.


The use of asbestos dates all the way back to Ancient Greece. Worryingly, the Greeks had already noted that those using asbestos suffered with lung illnesses. Despite this knowledge, they would spin asbestos fibres into their cloths and towels. The mineral’s fire resistant properties meant that towels could be thrown into fires to be cleaned without being damaged.

The use of asbestos in material was not limited to towels. Charlemagne, Emperor of the Romans in the 8th Century, had an asbestos tablecloth. At the end of a meal, he would throw it in the fire. To the amazement of his fellow diners when he retrieved the cloth the stains were removed but the cloth was undamaged by the flames. This led many to believe he had magical powers.

Cigarette filters

Possibly one of the most worrying uses of asbestos was in cigarette filters. We now know asbestos fibres are extremely dangerous when inhaled or ingested and putting it in a cigarette filter guarantees inhalation. Sadly, the use of asbestos in cigarettes is not outdated, as asbestos has been found in bootleg cigarettes in modern days.

Surgical thread

Asbestos thread was very strong and flexible; this made it perfect for surgeons to use. They used the thread to stitch wounds closed. Asbestos thread was commonly used in heart and lung surgery, a shocking fact considering the lung problems it can cause.

Film sets

Special effects in the 1930s to 1950s were nothing like they are today. Snow machines and CGI (computer-generated images) did not exist. As a result, films such as White Christmas and The Wizard of Oz had to improvise and used asbestos as fake snow.

Asbestos was also used in stunts where fire was needed. The fire retardant properties made it perfect for use in stunt clothing such as body suits to ensure the safety of actors. Ironically, the item that saved them then could have caused chronic illness later in life. In fact, Hollywood star Steve McQueen was diagnosed with mesothelioma and sadly died in 1980, at just 50 years old. He was likely exposed to asbestos from sound stage insulation and suits during his racing days.

Thankfully, these days we know the dangers of asbestos and, here in the UK, the use of the deadly substance is banned. However, this is not the case in many countries and asbestos use is still going on. This is extremely troublesome as the legacy of asbestos will continue until asbestos is eradicated.

How can we help?

If you require assistance in pursuing a mesothelioma compensation claim or other asbestos disease then please contact us today on our freephone number 0800 038 6767. Alternatively, head over to the ‘Contact Us’ page, complete the form and we will be in touch.

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