Asbestos in Metalworking
Until regulations were put in place to protect workers from exposure, those who worked with metals were at risk for asbestos exposure in their workplaces. Asbestos was used in these projects mostly because of its resistance to the high temperatures that were often needed to bend and work metal. Asbestos was used for the machinery that would help with metalworking as it could withstand the heat and still work as they were intended.
Asbestos lined pipes, ovens, boilers, and more, insulating them and helping to fireproof them. This also made it ideal for heat protective gear for machine operators so they wouldn’t get burned while operating. These metalworkers had a doubled risk of exposure in environments like shipyards and construction sites that already held asbestos in the products they utilized for their projects.
It wasn’t well-known for the majority of the early 20th century that asbestos was causing lung diseases and other cancers. These illnesses began to spread amongst metalworkers who spent their time working on construction sites and in shipyards, and the connection was finally made regarding the hazardous conditions.
With the particles coming home on the worker’s skin, hair, and clothing, it was easily spread to their family members as well. Because it takes years for these illnesses to develop as asbestos works in your system, it is recommended that current and former metalworkers get looked at regularly by their doctors to monitor any symptoms that might emerge over time.
Jobs in Metalworking
Not all metalworking jobs are the same, which also means that their risks of exposure may vary somewhat. So whether you’re consistently working in a hazardous site, or you’re moving from one to the next, you should know if your job is one that is in the at-risk group.
Asbestos is highly resistant to heat, which made it an ideal substance to use in steel milling. These particles would break down as they aged and would begin floating in the air to be inhaled, ingested, or get caught on clothes or in hair. It has been found that pleural mesothelioma has been quite a common diagnosis amongst steel mill workers.
Asbestos has been found in their environment, the materials they work with, and even in the gear they use to protect themselves. Cancer of the lungs is also quite common for steel mill workers due to the inhalation of asbestos particles.
Work environments for blacksmiths were typically insulated with asbestos as working with fire is paramount to bending metal into the products that are needed. The gear blacksmiths wore were also typically lined with asbestos to ensure that they were heat resistant and would not catch fire while working.
So their protective gear wasn’t protecting them as much as they originally thought.
The common trend for most of these jobs is the necessity to work with high temperatures and even live fire to join, sculpt, or bend metals together. Welders are one of the highest risk occupations on this list as their work in shipyards. Lung diseases and pleural mesothelioma are incredibly common in welders as they have the most exposure to asbestos particles.
This exposure can happen from damaging or disturbing asbestos materials, or simply being in an environment that contains it. This is why it is so important for workers in these conditions to have regulations and safety measures imposed to keep them safe.
This exposure is caused mostly due to the protective gear they have to wear to keep themselves safe in their environment. Most smelting work environments were constructed with asbestos to keep them safe. It isn’t entirely uncommon for them to work on asbestos materials either, which doubles their risk.
Over 40% of smelting workers are exposed to asbestos particles and thus are at risk for mesothelioma and related illnesses.
Aluminum and Iron Working
The facilities used for aluminum and ironwork are typically constructed with asbestos materials. The exposure to the materials was largely due to the environment and the machinery used to work with aluminum and iron.
Asbestos exposure was so common in these work conditions that soon enough the illnesses associated with the exposure were unable to be ignored. Lung diseases, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related illnesses were becoming far more prominent after years of exposure in these metalworkers’ occupational environments. Asbestos was used to insulate heated conditions and the close quarters to asbestos particles meant they were easily breathed in or ingested.
These exposed workers sought financial compensation for their suffering and this led to many lawsuits that overwhelmed companies who primarily used asbestos as a material for construction or other means. Companies went under and set up trusts to pay out the multitude of lawsuits being tossed their way for negligence. Over sixty trusts were set up to pay victims who were facing asbestos-related illnesses due to exposure in their workplaces.
In one instance, those who wore asbestos mitts to protect themselves while working started filing civil claims as they became aware of what the asbestos products were doing to their bodies. Chrysotile asbestos was found in these protective products and with workers using them every day they were raising their risks of exposure to particles.
Metalworking companies who have been cited with the largest risks for asbestos exposure were companies like U.S Steel, Harvey Aluminum, Bethlehem Steel, USS-Posco Industries, Reynolds Aluminum, and more.
Several companies put workers at risk for exposure during their height of production. These companies put productivity over the safety of their employees, which has led to the demise of several of them.
They are known in the modern-day as the producer of aluminum foil. Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil is used all over the country and the production stemmed originally from foil wrapping for cigarettes and confections. Foil wrapping is their most common production for multiple uses and it has changed over time what exactly that foil wrapping is used for.
Their aluminum production has been used in big products as well like a bus and a submarine made entirely out of their aluminum. It has changed over time to simply work as an aluminum foil packaging company, but they have changed owners and packed up several of their production plants over time.
This is one of the big bad companies that put their production over the safety of their employees. Nearly every job the company had put workers at risk of exposure. These jobs from research to operation of machinery all posed risks to workers before there were guidelines in place to protect them from the dangers of asbestos.
There was research done on one of the aluminum plants by the Environmental Protection Agency. There happened to be a landfill that had been packed with discards and asbestos garbage that was leftover from construction work. Asbestos wasn’t the only risk present in that landfill. They also found traces of poisonous chemicals like arsenic and cyanide that affected the water running off from these plants and then flooded into surrounding areas.
This plant was sued multiple times for the poisonous toxins that were being discharged from it. The company ultimately changed its name and reworked itself before it ultimately went under.
Alcoa was the largest producer of aluminum and it became one of the most important companies in production during WWII. They produced aluminum for a variety of projects and are still active as a producer in over thirty countries. They used an abundance of incredibly poisonous asbestos in their production plants for years.
Their biggest negligence case was caused by the exposure that a young child faced due because her parent worked at one of the Alcoa plants. She contracted mesothelioma and the suit was won in the favor of the family because all mesothelioma cases are considered preventable. It was established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that employees were not allowed to bring their clothing home after working with asbestos.
The exposure risk from particles being transferred home on the clothing of workers was what led to the deaths of several family members of Alcoa workers. Though they are still an active company, they are heavily regulated by OSHA and are now forced to protect their workers from exposure.
This company is considered the largest producer of steel in America. They are largely responsible for the production of steel used in construction projects all over the U.S. Steel beams, reinforcements, girders, and more structural components are produced by this company and used in a variety of construction projects. Many of their workers have been exposed to large amounts of asbestos over time.
Those who work directly with the materials like machine operators, as well as those pouring the steel and casting it were all exposed to asbestos through the machinery, products, and the protective gear they used. The inhalation of asbestos particles was incredibly common in these cases. The Environmental Protection Agency found violations at several of their fourteen plants across the U.S at the beginning of the 21st century.
These pollutants varied in type, but some of them happened to be hazardous waste, water pollutants, carbon monoxide gas, and many more. This made Nucor one of the few companies to violate multiple EPA guidelines at once.
This company actively supplies sheet and tubular steel to a variety of industries such as automotive, manufacturing, and construction. While they do produce a large amount of the steel utilized in the United States, they also have received a high number of complaints and litigation from workers who were exposed to asbestos in one of their facilities.
USX has been forced to pay out over $265 million in settlements from workers who have contracted mesothelioma or have been affected by asbestos while working within one of their facilities for extended periods. These lawsuits were not only filed by workers from USX but also by those who had been exposed to their products while working in other industries.
LTV Steel was one of the few companies on this list that found themselves bankrupt, due to the sheer number of exposures to asbestos workers suffered while working machinery at their plants. The insulation for many of these machines was made up of asbestos due to its heat-resistance, making it far easier for workers to be unknowingly exposed. Once workers started showing signs of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, lawsuits began to pile in.
The sheer volume of lawsuits filed by workers led to bankruptcy for the company. Litigation ceased due to the declaration of bankruptcy and the company enforced new regulations to attempt to clean up their act. While they were once again clean and operational, the company could never recover from the financial and reputational hit and was thus forced to close its doors in 2001.
Other companies such as Weirton Steel, Wheeling-Pittsburg Steel, and many more were caught in legal battles due to their negligence in informing their employees of potential asbestos exposure. Many of these companies were cited by the EPA or went against OSHA guidelines and thus found themselves shuttered due to the overabundance of litigation pushed their way. Of those companies that managed to stay afloat, they have since changed their regulations and added in protections for workers so as not to put their employees at risk any longer.
Protective gear, machinery, and facilities have all been carefully vetted and monitored to keep workers and their families safe.
Asbestos in Metalworking