The Martin-Marietta Aluminum Company was an aluminum production operation run by the parent company Martin-Marietta. The primary facility of this venture was an aluminum reduction facility built by Harvey Aluminum in 1970 near the city of Goldendale, Washington, at the John Day Dam on the Columbia River.
History of the Site
Harvey Aluminum first developed the site of the reduction facility in 1970. The project cost the company $96.6 million and was completed in 1971. The rendering facility was designed to extract alumina from Australian bauxite and then process the alumina into aluminum ingots. In 1971, the facility was capable of producing 100,000 tons of aluminum annually.
Martin-Marietta took possession of the site after its acquisition of Harvey Aluminum and continued to process aluminum there until 1984 when the plant was idled for economic reasons. . The site was leased to another company - Northwest Aluminum - in 1986 and began operations again.
The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States has indicated that 28 areas on the 800-acre site have been contaminated by the long-term production of aluminum and illegal disposal of waste from that process.
A landfill has been constructed on the site that is 15 acres in size and contains 200,000 cubic yards of toxic waste. This waste includes asbestos, metallic waste and 5,000 tons of spent potliners. These potliners are the residual material after the molten aluminum bath has undergone electrolysis. Potliners can contain cyanide, polycyclic hydrocarbons and arsenic.
Additional waste products of the aluminum rendering process are 64,670 cubic yards of cathode waste material. All of this has been disposed of at various sites on the industrial campus and has contaminated subsoil. Groundwater has been severely contaminated over the years, and despite the area being capped by the EPA, surrounding soils remain contaminated and chemicals continue to leach.
While the affected area is populated by only 20 homes, the groundwater does provide drinking water to more than 14,000 residents of The Dalles and Chenoweth.
Asbestos and Martin-Marietta Aluminum Company
In situations where flame or extreme temperature was a risk, various forms of asbestos were the insulator preferred by builders for the majority of the 1900s. Plants such as Martin-Marietta Aluminum Company, as a result, were usually built with materials that contained asbestos. Resistance to conducting electricity is one of the other properties of asbestos. Since aluminum creation not only requires extremely high temperatures but also utilizes large amounts of electric power, asbestos was used throughout most aluminum plants. Benches, safety clothing and coating materials were also made with asbestos because of its ability to withstand chemicals. Asbestos, however, carried a significant downside that was not understood or at times deliberately ignored: debilitating and sometimes lethal medical conditions were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.
Most of the asbestos was of the chrysotile variety. In spite of scientific evidence to the contrary, for many years chrysotile was touted by corporate interests as the "good asbestos" and "environmentally friendly". Although it was disallowed as a construction material in the 1970s, this chrysotile, which was frequently combined with amphibole asbestos and used to create asbestos-containing transite, appeared for decades in aluminum plants throughout the country.
Like cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and laminated. For the most part, new items formed from transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos particles were encapsulated in the transite. As transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) ages and become prone to becoming powdery, however, deadly, tiny particles are able to flake off into the air. That is, such asbestos is friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone.
The Problem with Friable Asbestos
Friable asbestos is dangerous since in this condition the particles are readily dispersed into the environment. If someone breathes these particles, they can damage the lungs, resulting in cancer or asbestosis. Another unusual, but often deadly, disease linked to asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of mesothelioma cancer, one which affects the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most common. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma result from swallowing fibers of asbestos, which can occur when the microscopic particles become airborne and land on food or in beverages.
In the past twenty years scientists and researchers have learned a lot about the risks that accompany being exposed to asbestos, and therefore there are stringent guidelines regulating its use. Asbestos use was much more common, however, when most aluminum plants were first operating. Before modern laws were put into place, employees frequently toiled without protective equipment in environments where asbestos dust clouded the atmosphere.
A Ticking Bomb
One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is the resulting illnesses can take many, many years to appear - often long after a worker has retired from the employer. The symptoms of asbestosis and asbestos cancer - shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea), chest pain and a chronic cough - may often be mistaken for those of other, less serious disorders. Hence, it is very important for all that worked in or spent much time near places like Martin-Marietta Aluminum Company to tell their health care professionals about the chance of asbestos exposure. Furthermore, spouses of these people are also at risk, because unless effective decontamination policies, such as the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were followed, it was easy for people to bring asbestos dust on themselves or their clothing.Sources
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Environmental Protection Agency - Martin Marietta Aluminum Company