The Intalco Aluminum Works at Cherry Point, Washington, is an aluminum production facility currently operated by Alcoa. The name has been changed to the Alcoa Intalco Works. The smelter is the largest of its kind in the United States. The aluminum works covers 300 acres and at its peak employed 1,150 people. Today the facility operates at two-thirds capacity and employs approximately 640 people.
Operations and Process
The smelter is located near Cherry Point, Washington, along the Strait of Georgia. It began operations in 1966 under Alumax, Pechiney and Howmet. Later the smelter would be owned and operated by Intalco and Alcoa.
Aluminum is processed from a raw material called alumina, which is commonly produced from the mineral bauxite. Two tons of alumina can produce one ton of aluminum metal using the Hall-Heroult process. That ton is enough metal to manufacture 60,000 beverage cans or frames for seven automobiles.
The smelter produces aluminum through the Hall-Heroult reduction process. This is the primary method for producing aluminum in the world today. The raw alumina is dissolved in a molten bath that is then electrolyzed, allowing cathodes to accrete pure aluminum.
This process uses an extraordinary amount of electricity. The facility is the largest consumer of electricity in the northwest United States, and during the California Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001, the facility was paid to shut down so that the residual electricity could be sold to California.
Alcoa (Aluminum Corporation of America) is the third-largest producer of aluminum in the world. Alcoa operates facilities in 44 countries and in 2007 produced revenues of over 30 billion dollars. Its current subsidiaries include Reynolds Metals, Halco Mining, Kawneer and Howmet Castings.
Intalco Aluminum Works and Asbestos
If excessive heat or combustion was a concern, the mineral called asbestos was the insulation preferred by builders during the majority of the 1900s. Asbestos-containing materials, accordingly, were frequently utilized when building smelters such as Intalco Aluminum Works at Cherry Point, Washington. Resistance to electrical current is perhaps a less well-known property of asbestos. Since aluminum creation not only involves heating raw materials to very high temperatures but also uses large amounts of electric power, asbestos could be found throughout nearly all aluminum smelters. Protective clothes, coating materials and counter tops were also made with asbestos-containing material because of its ability to withstand chemical corrosion. Asbestos, however, had a significant downside that was either not known or at times deliberately ignored: debilitating and often lethal diseases were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.
Generally, chrysotile was the kind of asbestos utilized. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, for a long time chrysotile was described by corporate interests as "environmentally friendly". This chrysotile or "white" asbestos was often mixed with amphibole asbestos and formed into asbestos transite, which appeared for many years before being banned in building materials in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes in the same way cement could. As long as it was solid, this form of asbestos offered little hazard. However, as transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) got older, it became prone to crumbling, which enabled the lethal, tiny fibers to float into the air. Asbestos when it is in this state is considered friable, which means easy to crush.
Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad
When friable, asbestos fibers are readily released into the air. Medical conditions like asbestosis and cancer can result from breathing asbestos. Another uncommon, but generally lethal, disease linked to asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of the disease, one which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. Swallowing asbestos fibers, as can occur when the microscopic particles float in the air and fall on food or in beverages, may result in pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.
In the past twenty years scientists and researchers have uncovered a lot concerning the risks that accompany being exposed to asbestos, and as a result there are strict regulations controlling its use. Asbestos use was more common, however, when facilities such as Intalco Aluminum Works were constructed. And even now, asbestos from the past can cause problems if it is mishandled during remodeling and demolition projects.
The Hidden Danger of Asbestos
Asbestos cancer, unlike most workplace injuries, which are readily observed and known about immediately following the incident, can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to manifest. Given such a lengthy time between exposure to asbestos and the appearance of the resulting disease, the worker may not connect his or her current health problem with work he or she did up to 40 years ago. It is vital, therefore, that men and women who were employed by or lived around plants like Intalco Aluminum Works at Cherry Point, Washington, inform their physicians about the possibility of asbestos exposure. Such information can help doctors to make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma cancer, the sooner it is caught, the higher the chances of survival or at the least of improved quality of life.Sources
Alcoa.com - Alcoa: Intalco Works
Alcoa.com - Alcoa: Intalco Works: Overview
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal