Reynolds Metals was the second-largest producer of aluminum in the United States and the third largest in the world. The company was headquartered in Virginia but operated facilities throughout the United States, including several operations in Washington.
The Longview Plant
The aluminum smelter at Longview, Washington, is today known as Longview Aluminum, LLC. Prior to this it was owned by Alcoa and Reynolds Metals.
The Reynolds facility at Longview, Washington, was originally a wartime production facility that began producing aluminum to fill the military need. At the end of the war, the facility was producing more than 250,000 tons of aluminum annually.
History of Reynolds
The company that would come to be famous for aluminum foil wrap actually began with the nephew of wealthy tobacco baron R. J. Reynolds in 1919. The company started by producing lead foil and tin foil wrappers for cigarettes and candy. In 1926 the company first began production of aluminum foil, resulting in an expansion into aluminum products, which included foil bottle labels, foil bags, and insulation paper.
Despite all of this aluminum innovation, it wasn't until 1947 that the company began to produce what would become its most famous product - Reynolds Wrap Aluminum Foil. The company began development on aluminum siding during this post-war period as well, and even began to expand into non-aluminum products.
Reynolds became involved with products that were not geared toward the consumer market in the 1960s, helping to develop aluminum automobile bodies and even an aluminum submarine dubbed Aluminaut.
Sale and Current Status
Reynolds merged with Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) on May 3, 2000, making it part of the largest aluminum company in the United States. The assets of Reynolds were sold by Alcoa in 2008 to New Zealand billionaire Graham Hart and renamed Reynolds Packaging Group.
Aluminum Smelters and Asbestos
During much of the 20th century, in cases where extreme heat or fire was a concern, various forms of asbestos were selected as a building material. As a result, it was quite common for aluminum foundries such as the Reynolds Metals aluminum smelter at Longview to be constructed with materials that contained asbestos. One of the other properties of asbestos is that it is resistant to electricity. Since aluminum refining not only requires heating raw materials to very high temperatures but also uses large amounts of electric power, asbestos could be found throughout almost all aluminum smelters. Asbestos' resistance to chemical corrosion also meant it was used in lab equipment, work surfaces and protective clothing. Asbestos, however, came with a significant downside that was not understood or at times deliberately ignored: grave and sometimes fatal diseases were caused by asbestos exposure.
Generally, chrysotile was the variety of asbestos utilized. Companies for a number of years professed that chrysotile was the "good asbestos" and "environmentally friendly" - despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in aluminum foundries across the country, chrysotile - frequently combined with amosite or crocidolite - was eventually banned in building materials in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite was characterized qualities like cement; it could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and laminated. This form of asbestos did not present a health risk so long as it was solid. However, as transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) got older, it was prone to crumbling, which enabled the deadly, tiny particles to float into the atmosphere. Asbestos in this condition is called friable, a term that is used to describe materials that are easily crushed.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
When friable, asbestos fibers are readily released in the environment. Medical conditions such as asbestosis and cancer can result from inhaling asbestos. In addition, asbestos exposure is known to be the leading causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, an unusual and frequently fatal disease affecting the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, as can occur if those tiny particles become airborne and settle on food or in drinks, may lead to pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.
Since scientific inquiry yielded increased knowledge of the risks of asbestos exposure, workers today benefit from the protection offered by strict guidelines regulating the use of asbestos. When facilities such as the Longview Reynolds Metals aluminum smelter were first operating, however, the use of asbestos was much more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from long ago can cause problems if it is not properly handled during demolition and remodeling jobs.
The Hidden Hazard of Asbestos
Asbestos cancer, unlike typical work-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, can take many, many years to develop. It can also be hard to identify asbestos-related diseases since the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. Accordingly, it is vital for those who worked at or resided near places such as the Reynolds Metals aluminum smelter at Longview to tell their physicians about the chance of asbestos exposure. New therapies for mesothelioma cancer are being developed, and early detection provides patients and their doctors the highest chance of beating the previously always-fatal form of cancer.
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