Asbestos in Gloves and Other Safety Equipment
Asbestos-lined gloves were standard issue for workers in many different industries as well as fire departments and the military for many decades. Metalworkers, welders and glassblowers especially depended on these gloves in order to protect their hands from painful and debilitating burn injuries.
Men working on steam-powered train engines would use these gloves to make adjustments to the firebox – by using these gloves the firebox tender could repair and replace the fire bricks within the red-hot combustion chamber of a locomotive without stopping the train. Similar uses were common throughout the early and mid-20th century.
Hazards Associated with Asbestos Gloves
When new, asbestos gloves were relatively safe as the asbestos fibers were carefully woven into the glove material and did not enter the atmosphere. As these gloves aged and became worn, however, they could release loose asbestos fibers into the work environment.
Ongoing exposure to these fibers could result in a number of diseases including asbestosis and various forms of cancer such as mesothelioma. Although the gloves were inexpensive, they wore out quickly under the harsh conditions they were used in and were often kept in service long after they had become tattered and worn. This significantly compounded the health risks for those using them.
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
Handling hot firebricks with asbestos mittens. (1918, May). Popular Mechanics, 92(5), 753.