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Kaiser Aluminum-Spokane

The Kaiser Aluminum plant in Spokane is actually located in the suburb of Trentwood. The plant is a rolling mill facility, which is the largest flat-rolled aluminum mill in the western United States.

Trentwood Site History

Kaiser's Trentwood Works was constructed in 1942 as a wartime facility. Today, Trentwood is one of the most advanced flat-rolled-product mills in the world. Following World War II, Henry Kaiser pursued the development of the aluminum business, and in 1946, against the advice of industry experts, he leased (and later purchased) Trentwood and its sister facility, the Mead Works primary aluminum plant.

Operations at Trentwood

Trentwood is a complete mill, with the capability to produce, finish, and ship a variety of products. The facilities and capabilities today include:

  • Casting
  • Scalping/Soaking
  • Hot Rolling
  • Annealing
  • Cold Rolling
  • Finishing
  • Finishing and Rigid Container Stock
  • Finishing and Heat Treat Products
  • Inspection
  • Shipping

The Kaiser Aluminum Company

Kaiser Aluminum is headquartered in Foothill Ranch, California. The company was founded in 1946 by Henry J. Kaiser, who began the business by leasing and purchasing three aluminum production facilities in Washington State that had formerly been owned and operated by the US government. These facilities included the Trentwood facility as well as the reduction facilities in Mead and Tacoma.

Today, Kaiser owns 11 fabricating plants with an output potential of 400 million pounds of Aluminum annually. The company also owns a 49 percent interest in a Welsh aluminum smelter. In 2005, Kaiser reported revenues of $1.1 billion and employed more than 2,000 people.

Asbestos in Aluminum Plants

For almost all of the 1900s, when extreme heat or flame was a risk, various forms of asbestos were selected as insulation. Aluminum smelters such as the Kaiser Aluminum plant in Spokane, as a result, were usually made with materials containing asbestos. A lesser-known property of asbestos is that it resists conducting electrical current. Because of the high electrical needs when fabricating aluminum, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in plant structures, but also in motors, power turbines and heavy machinery in the plant. Also, asbestos' ability to withstand acids meant it was useful in safety clothes, coating materials and bench tops. And although the asbestos worked well in safeguarding against fire damage and in protecting people and equipment from extreme heat, it also exposed people who used it or worked around it to significant health risks.

Much of this asbestos was the form called chrysotile. For a number of years, chrysotile was touted by corporate interests as the "good asbestos" and "environmentally friendly", in spite of mounting proof to the contrary. Although it was outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s, chrysotile, which was often mixed with brown or blue asbestos and formed into asbestos-containing transite, appeared for many years in aluminum plants across the country.

Like cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, molded into working surfaces and laminated. As long as asbestos transite remained solid, this form of asbestos posed little hazard. With age, however, this transite becomes prone to crumbling, enabling microscopic particles to float into the air. Asbestos when it is in this condition is called friable, which translates to easy to pulverize.

Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem

When friable, asbestos particles are readily dispersed into the environment. Breathing asbestos particles can cause diseases such as cancer or asbestosis. Another rare, but often lethal, disease linked to asbestos is mesothelioma. The pleural variety of mesothelioma cancer, which attacks the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. If those particles of asbestos in the air land on food or in beverages and are subsequently ingested, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can result, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.

Increased pressure from medical scientists and the press led to laws regulating how to use asbestos. However, when smelters like the Kaiser Aluminum plant in Spokane were first operating, asbestos was much more common. Any asbestos that remains from then can yet pose a health hazard if safety procedures are not followed during remodeling projects.

The Hidden Hazard of Asbestos

Asbestos cancer, in contrast to many work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear. It can also be hard to identify asbestos-related diseases because the symptoms resemble the symptoms of other, less serious conditions. It is vital, therefore, that folks that were employed by or spent much time near places such as the Kaiser Aluminum plant in Spokane inform their health care professionals about the possibility of asbestos exposure. New ways to combat mesothelioma cancer are being developed, and early detection provides patients and their doctors the highest chance of beating the once always-fatal disease.



Kaiser - History of Kaiser Aluminum

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

US Environmental Protection Agency - Kaiser Aluminum Meade Works

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