Asbestos was once considered so useful and so indispensible that it was classified as a "strategic material" by the military and used in literally thousands of different applications ranging from the obvious (insulation) to the obscure (crockpots). One overlooked place for asbestos use is wrapped around high voltage cable wires, such as those shown in this photograph.
During its “golden age” (roughly 1890-1980), asbestos was included in nearly any application that involved heat and extremes of temperature. High voltage wires were a natural fit for asbestos insulation. As a non-conducting material, asbestos could prevent arcs to adjacent components and wiring and shield surrounding materials from high temperatures.
Once asbestos use was definitively linked to a wide range of serious illnesses in the 1970s such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, its use was discontinued. Today’s high voltage cables do not contain asbestos insulation, but any intact high voltage cables installed prior to 1980 should be tested for asbestos before any removal or renovation.
Anyone who worked around high voltage cable – either installing or insulating them – may have been exposed to asbestos and could be at risk of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer or other asbestos-related diseases.
The lag time between exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma can be up to 50 years, giving those who worked with asbestos the false sense that because they have been exposed but remain healthy, they are safe. Mesothelioma can strike anyone who has been exposed to asbestos at any time.