Fibreglass is a type of fiber primarily composed of glass that is used in a wide variety of applications, and is mostly used as a residential and commercial thermal insulator. It is also used as a reinforcing agent for many plastic products. The resulting composite material which is known as glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) or glass-fiber reinforced epoxy (GRE), is called “fibreglass”.
Fibreglass is also used to create products such as automobile bodies, boat hulls, arrows, roofing, shower curtains, and tent poles. As an insulator, it slows the spread of heat, cold, and sound in structures, cars and aircraft.
Glass has been woven into small amounts of coarse fibers for many centuries, even by the ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians, but fibreglass did not exist in its modern form until 1932 as a result of an accident. A researcher named Dale Kleist was attempting to create a vacuum-tight seal between two glass blocks when a jet of high-pressure air turned a stream of molten glass into fine fibers. He had unintentionally discovered an effective method to produce large amounts of fibreglass particles, a method that he would refine in later years.
Fibreglass was trademarked in 1938 as Fiberglas® and was subsequently used in clothing, boat hulls, fishing rods, and eventually automobile bodies in 1953 when Fiberglas® partnered with Chevrolet.
The fibreglass strength is maintained due to the fact that the fibers carry the load while the resin distributes the weight throughout the composite parts as required. Plastic is a synthetic material that can be made into almost any shape. Plastic is mostly found in water bottles and bags that tend to be very flimsy. However, when you add a glass fiber reinforcement this already great material becomes stronger than some metals. The strength-to-weight ratio of Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic compared to metal or wood products can be up to 5 times bigger.
Fibreglass is highly durable. It will not degrade when exposed to the elements. Because it is made from glass, fibreglass takes heat very well, withstanding temperatures at 40 degrees below zero and in excess of 350 degrees. Fibreglass is strong and requires no maintenance. It is not prone to moisture, and it will not be impacted by UV rays. Therefore, fibreglass has a long lifespan. In boats, fiberglass typically lasts 50 years or more. Fibreglass Insulation can last 100 years.
When a person inhales fibreglass, larger fibers may be trapped in the upper airway. Smaller fibers may be inhaled deep into the lungs. Inhaled fibers are removed from the body partially through sneezing or coughing, and through the body’s defense mechanisms. Fibreglass that reaches the lungs may remain in the lungs or the thoracic region. Ingested fibreglass is removed from the body via feces.
Direct contact with fibreglass or breathing airborne dust containing fibreglass may irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. The symptoms of irritation are often nonspecific, temporary, and may include itching, coughing, or wheezing. High levels of exposure to airborne fibreglass may aggravate existing asthma or bronchitis-like conditions.
In 2000, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed studies of fibreglass manufacturing workers and concluded that “…glass fibers do not appear to increase the risk of respiratory system cancer.”