Fiberglass in homes

Owens Corning's Fiberglas , Fiber Glass, Glass Fiber and GlassWool: A Carcinogen That's Everywhere - The Asbestos of the 21st Century

Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly [1]


An industrial process for making glass fibers was first patented in Russia in 1840. [1,pg.292] At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Edward Libbey, an American, exhibited lamp shades, a dress, and other articles woven from glass fibers. In 1915, the Allied Forces blockaded Germany and created an asbestos shortage which resulted in full-scale U.S. production of fiber glass as an asbestos substitute.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous material that can be woven into cloth, does not burn readily, has excellent properties for thermal insulation, and therefore came into common commercial use during this century.[2,pgs.390-392] Fiber glass has many of the same characteristics as asbestos.

In 1938, the Owens Corning Fiberglas Company was formed, and three years later, in 1941, evidence of pulmonary disease was reported by Walter J. Siebert, who investigated the health of workers with the cooperation of Owens Corning.[1,pg.292] That same year another investigator reported finding "no hazard to the lungs" of workers exposed to glass fibers in the air. Scientific disagreement of this sort has characterized the study of fiber glass ever since; meanwhile fiber glass production has increased steadily.

In 1941, the U.S. Patent Office issued patents for 353 glass wool products. Glass wool, fiber glass, fiberglas, fibrous glass, and glass fibers are all names for the same thing: man made thin, needle-shaped rods of glass.

Fiber glass is now used for thermal insulation of industrial buildings and homes, as acoustic insulation, for fireproofing, as a reinforcing material in plastics, cement, and textiles, in automotive components, in gaskets and seals, in filters for air and fluids, and for many other miscellaneous uses. More than 30,000 commercial products now contain fiber glass.

As asbestos has been phased out because of health concerns, fiber glass production in the U.S. has been rising. In 1975, U.S. production of fiber glass was 247.88 million kilograms (545.3 million pounds); by 1984 it had risen to 632.88 million kilograms (1392.3 million pounds).[1,pg.302] If that rate of growth (10.4% per year) held steady, then production of fiber glass in the U.S. in 1995 would be 436 million pounds.

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