Metal manufacturing has been a key industry in the U.S. since colonial times, with plants working in iron, steel, copper and aluminum becoming some of the most popular employers. Nowadays, workers are required to adhere to specific health and safety procedures, which protect both the employees and the business. Before the 1990s, no such rules existed and workers could have been unknowingly subjected to toxic substances such as asbestos.
History of Aluminum Plants in America
Aluminum plants became popular places to work from the mid-1900s, as the Industrial Revolution increased employment and trades. While asbestos was not an essential component in the making of aluminum, it was present in many plans due to its heat-resistant properties.
During the process of making aluminum, materials are heated to high temperatures, which can be dangerous for the walls of the building. The heat needed to be isolated to be efficient on the product and to avoid risk to workers, so the pots were insulated with asbestos.
Asbestos was low-cost and durable, meaning it could retain heat for long periods of time. Asbestos was also used throughout aluminum smelters to protect against electric power and chemical corrosion. It was used in lab equipment to make work surfaces and for protective clothing that the employees were given to wear.
Washington Aluminum Plants
Washington is home to the majority of asbestos-containing aluminum plants in the U.S., with a total of 10 plants. The most famous of these is perhaps Reynolds Metals Aluminum, which was the second largest producer in the U.S. They were known for their aluminum foil, among other products, but came under fire for using large quantities of asbestos in their equipment and insulation, which could have affected thousands of workers.
Kaiser Aluminum was another Washington-based plant that was found to use asbestos-containing materials between 1950 and 1970. By 2002, the company had filed for bankruptcy, and by 2008, the trust has paid $116 million in claims due to asbestos exposure.
Other known asbestos-containing aluminum plants exist in Arizona, California, Montana, New York, Oregon and Utah.
Asbestos Use in Aluminum Plants
Asbestos was commonly used in aluminum plants to insulate the pots used to melt materials. In these cases, chrysotile asbestos would be sprayed into the area between the walls and the pot to retain heat. However, as asbestos gets old, it tends to crumble. This causes tiny fibers to be released into their air, exposing workers to these dust-like particles. Unfortunately, they could easily get into the lining of the lungs, stomach and heart and cause mesothelioma.
Workers Exposed in Aluminum Plants
Before the 1990s, workers in aluminum plants were regularly exposed to asbestos. The product was found in products and structures like:
- Work surfaces
Workers in potrooms were exposed to a plethora of dangerous agents, including heat, carbon, chlorides, tars and asbestos. Asbestos, in this instance, was used as a pot insulator, but if the fibers were disturbed, they could become airborne and easily inhaled by workers in these areas.
One potroom in the Alco Wenatchee plant was said to contain over 900 pounds of asbestos insulation per pot. When the pot wasn’t getting hot enough, the workers would have to dig out the asbestos with jackhammers, which made the fibers airborne and able to be inhaled.
Today’s Risks in Aluminum Plants
Today there are more advanced health and safety procedures to protect workers from the dangers of asbestos (such as protective clothing), and the law states that asbestos is no longer to be used in insulation. However, some workers may still be at risk when working in older refineries.
Over time, asbestos will be totally replaced with a non-carcinogenic material to avoid health hazards in the future. But anyone working in these older plants is given the correct equipment and protective clothing to deal with the asbestos-containing areas until the material can be safely disposed of.
Compensation for Asbestos Exposure in Aluminum Plants
Patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma are victims of asbestos exposure. For many workers, this could have been prevented had there been better safety measures in place. Mesothelioma victims are eligible to seek compensation from their employer, and this can help to cover the costs of treatment and loss of earnings.
Speaking with a lawyer who specializes in mesothelioma cases will significantly increase the chance of a successful trial, and could quicken the process in general.
Many law firms across the U.S. specialize in asbestos law, and their job is to help mesothelioma victims gain a fair settlement. Patients can usually file an injury lawsuit within 3 years of diagnosis, and family members can also file a wrongful death lawsuit up to 3 years after a patient has passed—depending on the state.
If you’re a veteran who has received a mesothelioma diagnosis, then you may be eligible for compensation and benefits through the VA. Find out what you’re eligible for, get in touch with our VA-Accredited Claims Agents today to find out.