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Asbestos was frequently used in the high-heat environments of aluminum plants. Often found in the cement and insulation of the structures, machinery used to manufacture aluminum and even in the safety clothing workers wore, asbestos could be found almost anywhere to control the heat and electrical processes of making aluminum. Because of its wide use, asbestos is still present in many plants across the country.

Aluminum plant workers, maintenance workers and other staff members were often exposed to asbestos while working in the facilities. The material can still be found in at least 20 plants today, meaning workers are still at risk of exposure. With more than 2.2 million people working in the metal industry, there are many workers still at risk of developing a serious health condition like mesothelioma as a result of occupational exposure.

Asbestos Use at Aluminum Plants

Asbestos had many desirable properties for use in aluminum plants and throughout the metalworking industry, such as its ability to fireproof and its resistance to conducting electricity. Since aluminum plants often used potentially corrosive chemicals, high-voltage electric power and heat during the aluminum smelting process, asbestos was heavily used throughout many sites through the 1970s. From asbestos insulation to the motors, power turbines and heavy machinery in the plants, the mineral was used abundantly throughout plant sites.

Aluminum smelters even wore fireproof and non-corrosive asbestos protective clothing to protect against the chemicals used to manufacture the metal. The protective clothing allowed workers to handle the hot metals and corrosive chemicals safely. However, any damage to the clothes or general wear and tear could make the workers susceptible to exposure.

Many aluminum plants, the majority in Washington, still have asbestos materials in their facilities, leaving workers at risk of exposure. The following list of plants have led to known asbestos exposure.

  • Anaconda Copper Mining Company
  • Magma Copper Company
  • Alcan Aluminum Plant
  • Anaconda Aluminum Company
  • Anaconda Copper Mining Company
New York
  • Phelps Dodge Copper Plant
  • Cascade Steel Rolling Mills
  • Kennecott Copper Corp
  • Alcoa Aluminum-Vancouver
  • Alcoa Aluminum-Wenatchee
  • Columbia Aluminum
  • Harvey Aluminum
  • INTALCO Aluminum-Cherry Point
  • INTALCO-Ferndale
  • Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical
  • Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp
  • Martin-Marietta Corporation
  • Reynolds Aluminum

Aluminum Plant Workers and Mesothelioma Risk

The heavy use of asbestos in aluminum plants leaves millions of workers at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases by inhaling asbestos fibers while on the job. Though asbestos use in these plants is infrequent today, workers may still be exposed from past uses of the toxin in old equipment and machinery or within the building’s structure. Any employee within an aluminum plant, whether they’re involved in the smelting process or an office worker, has the potential to be exposed.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no safe level of asbestos exposure and any contact with the material can lead to diseases like mesothelioma. To help protect workers in aluminum plants and other at-risk industries, the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have laws in place to help reduce exposure and regulate how asbestos materials should be handled. For instance, any workers knowingly working with asbestos should be provided with respirators and appropriate protective gear.

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