Asbestos Exposure at Steel Mills

Quick Summary

Steelworkers are just some of the many industrial employees who were affected by asbestos’ presence in the workplace during the 20th century. As more and more former steelworkers come forward with health claims pertaining to asbestos exposure, the extent of the impact that these dangerous workplaces had on their workers becomes clearer.

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Steelworkers were employed in one of the United States’ most economically significant industries, and they encountered a variety of dangers on the job. However, the health risk from asbestos was not immediately evident, and asbestos-related illnesses often take years to develop.

To understand exactly how—and why—these hardworking employees developed asbestos-related illnesses, we need to look at the American steel industry in the 20th century and its mass importance and influence.

History of American Steel Mills

When large amounts of iron ore were found around the Great Lakes and the coal seams of Pennsylvania, the American Midwest morphed into the primary hub of the steel industry.

Did you know?

In the years between 1880 and 1910 alone, steel production in the U.S. skyrocketed from 1.25 million tons to over 24 million tons.

Steel rapidly became the preferred material for the backbone of American infrastructure. It was used to make railroads, skyscrapers, bridges and even the factories themselves. Steel eventually found its way into the household as a choice material for appliances and cars.

Throughout the majority of the 20th century, steel production in the U.S. continued to grow and expand until the country produced 141,262,000 tons in 1969—marking the industry’s peak. Today, the industry is still a highly significant one, employing approximately 140,000 workers.

Asbestos Use in American Steel Mills

When the steel industry was enjoying its prosperous golden years, so was asbestos. Used for several purposes, asbestos’ resistance to heat and fire—as well as its affordability—made it a seemingly excellent fit for the steel industry.

Some of the uses for which asbestos was employed in the steel industry include:

  • Machinery insulation for ovens, stoves, furnaces, rolling mills and boilers
  • Fireproofing in machine components
  • Insulation boards on steel molds

Although the new use of asbestos in construction was banned during the 1970s, the majority of existing steel mills in the U.S. were completed before the ban. There are still efforts to remove and contain asbestos from steel mills and other buildings across the country.

The reality is that asbestos-containing products are still present in many established buildings, including ones where people are still actively working.

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Workers Exposed in Steel Mills

Steelworkers may have been exposed to asbestos in several ways. Of course, asbestos is most hazardous when its fibers are airborne. In these mills, asbestos debris and dust were sometimes generated when equipment was being used or when being repaired or replaced.

Tampering with the asbestos in any way can cause it to crumble and become airborne.

Without proper protective equipment, it’s easy to inhale or ingest the material’s fine fibers. This ingestion leads to asbestos-related illnesses. When the fibers become embedded in the tissue of the lungs, chest or abdomen, they can cause genetic damage that leads to cancers such as mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure in steel mills can also cause asbestosis.

Because many steelworkers during the 20th century were not aware of the extent of the health hazard posed by asbestos, they worked without the kind of protective gear that asbestos abatement contractors and other people working with asbestos wear today.

Did you know?

Steelworkers sometimes wore heat-resistant clothing made with asbestos fibers. If this protective clothing became frayed or damaged in any way, it could also cause the worker to inhale asbestos fibers.

Compensation for Asbestos Exposure in Steel Mills

Many steel companies that exposed their workers to asbestos have established trust funds in order to pay compensation to those affected. If you or someone you know developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos in the steel industry, there are Legal Options at your disposal.

The most effective way to improve your chances of receiving the compensation you’re entitled to is to work with a mesothelioma lawyer. A qualified mesothelioma lawyer with experience handling similar claims will be able to help you build a strong case while providing invaluable tailored advice.

If you are a veteran exposed to asbestos during active duty, you may be eligible for VA benefits. Contact our VA-Accredited Claims Agent today to Learn More about filing a VA claim.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View Sources

National Material Center. “A Brief History of the American Steel Industry.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

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