Asbestos has historically been used in a variety of consumer, residential and industrial products, often because of the mineral’s heat resistance. As we have discussed in these posts, asbestos fibers that are contained within solid materials are always dangerous because the microscopic fibers are released into the air when the material is handled, broken, cut, crushed, or disintegrates.
Asbestos Fire Blankets
One such product is the asbestos fire blanket. Asbestos was woven into textiles to make them heat and fire resistant. They could cover the body; be wrapped around an object like a hot pipe, furnace or engine; or hung as a curtain- or screen-like barrier. Asbestos fire blankets have a variety of uses:
- To protect people as a fire, spark and heat barrier in their jobs, such as in welding, industrial settings, laboratories, firefighting, the military and others
- To put out small fires by smothering the flames
- To keep on hand, usually in a wall-mounted box, on a variety of residential, educational, government, commercial, military and industrial premises for use in fire emergencies
Asbestos fire blankets were largely made and used in the 20th century, but modern alternatives to asbestos in heat-resistant blankets like silica or fiberglass are safer. Modern thermal-insulating blankets may also have heat-resistant chemicals sprayed on instead of woven into the cloth. However, a simple Internet search shows that fire blankets containing asbestos are still manufactured and used widely around the world.
Fire Blankets are Always Dangerous
The danger from asbestos blankets is always present, because it is an asbestos cloth, and therefore even just handling it releases some asbestos fibers. The release is worse when the fabric is burned, cut or torn, or begins to disintegrate because of wear or age. When the invisible asbestos fibers are inhaled, it puts the victim at risk for diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and other cancers, which do not manifest for decades after asbestos exposure.
Unfortunately, many industrial and military worksites did not ensure that these blankets were safely handled and workers may be seeing asbestos-related diseases developing as a result today.
Moving a damaged or deteriorating fire blanket that could contain asbestos should be done by a licensed professional and disposal of such blankets should comply with hazardous waste laws.