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Harvey Aluminum

Harvey Aluminum was founded in California in 1914 and quickly became one of the nation's largest aluminum producers. A Fortune 500 company (peaking at position 421 in 1969), Harvey was bought by Martin-Marietta in 1972 - a company that subsequently became part of the conglomerate Lockheed Martin. Today, the assets of Harvey Aluminum are either part of Lockheed Martin's operations or have been parceled out to other aluminum companies such as Columbia Gorge, which owns the former Harvey facility at the John Day Dam.

Corporate History

Harvey Aluminum was founded by Leo Harvey, the son of a small factory owner from Lithuania. After fleeing Russia in 1905 and a two-year stint in Berlin, Harvey found employment with the Hot Point Electric Company of Ontario, California, in 1910. What began as a tool and die shop with two employees quickly grew, and by 1920 Harvey employed more than 300.

During the next 20 years, Harvey made a name for himself and his company by patenting several new inventions, including the pop-top aluminum can. The company was relatively unaffected by the Great Depression, and through the 1930s Harvey Aluminum continued to expand.

Facilities of Harvey Aluminum

This growth continued even after the Second World War, and in 1963 the company began a program of expansion that would lead eventually to the construction of the aluminum reduction mill at the John Day Dam in Washington in 1970. This project cost the company $96.6 million and was designed to convert bauxite to alumina.

At the time of the plant's completion in 1971, it was capable of producing 100,000 tons of aluminum ingots annually.

Aluminum Smelters and Asbestos

In the majority of the 20th century, asbestos was used as an insulator when flames or extreme heat was a risk. Facilities such as Harvey Aluminum's Washington State refinery, as a result, were frequently built using asbestos-containing materials. Another property of the fibrous mineral is that it resists conducting electricity. As a result, asbestos was used throughout almost all aluminum plants, since refining aluminum not only involves high heat but also utilizes large amounts of electricity. Asbestos' resistance to corrosive chemicals also meant it was used in protective clothes, bench and counter tops and lab equipment. There is no question that asbestos was very good at safeguarding against heat or fire. This benefit, however, came with a tragic cost in terms of human health.

In general, chrysotile was the type of asbestos utilized. For many years, chrysotile was touted by corporate interests as "environmentally friendly" and the "good asbestos", in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in aluminum foundries across the United States, chrysotile - frequently mixed with brown or blue asbestos - was eventually prohibited from use as a construction material in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite was characterized properties similar to cement; it could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and laminated. For the most part, new items built with transite were considered safe since the asbestos fibers were trapped in the transite. However, as transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) aged, it was prone to becoming powdery, which caused the deadly, tiny particles to flake off into the atmosphere. Asbestos when it is in this state is considered friable, which is defined as easy to pulverize.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

Asbestos fibers, when friable, can be readily dispersed into the air. If someone breathes these fibers, they can damage the lungs, causing asbestosis. In addition, asbestos exposure is the primary causal factor of mesothelioma, an unusual but almost always deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are caused by swallowing fibers of asbestos, which happens if microscopic particles are released into the air and settle on food or in drinks.

Since scientific inquiry resulted in increased knowledge of asbestos' serious effects on human health, people today benefit from the protection offered by strict laws regulating the use of asbestos. When plants such as Harvey Aluminum's Washington State refinery were first online, however, asbestos was much more common. Before present-day regulations were put into place, employees often labored without respirators in environments where asbestos particles clouded the air.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

In contrast to most workplace injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the incident, asbestos cancer can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop. The symptoms of mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis - a chronic cough, pain in the chest or abdomen and dyspnea - may often be confused with those of other disorders. Hence, it is vital for people that were employed by or lived near places such as Harvey Aluminum's Washington State refinery to inform their health care professionals about the possibility of exposure to asbestos. In addition, spouses and children of these people are also at risk, since unless effective decontamination policies, such as using on-site uniforms and showers, were followed, it was easy for workers to bring asbestos on their persons or their clothing.



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