The Allied Chemical Plant in California was one of many facilities operated by Allied Chemical Corporation (later AlliedSignal and subsequently Honeywell). The story of the company that is today known for aerospace technology and ubiquitous round thermostats actually began as a response to Germany's monopoly on chemical manufacturing during World War I.
Early History of Allied Chemical
During the First World War, Germany's chemical monopoly resulted in shortages of everything from clothing dye to pharmaceuticals. As a response, the publisher of the Washington Post, Eugene Meyer, initiated an effort to form an American chemical company in 1920. Along with chemist William Nichols, he formed Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation - an alliance of five smaller chemical companies that had been doing business in the United States since the 19th century.
The success of the business venture resulted in growth, and in 1928 a synthetic ammonia plant in Hopewell, Virginia, became the world's leading producer of that chemical. Business was booming, and after World War II, Allied moved into the manufacture of new products. These included nylon and refrigerants.
History as Allied Corp.
What followed this period of early growth and expansion were several acquisitions that changed the nature of the business and its products.
In 1983, Allied purchased Bendix, a manufacturer of aerospace equipment and automotive parts. This proved a lucrative venture, as by 1984 Bendix was generating 50 percent of Allied's income.
In 1985, Allied merged with Signal Companies, adding to the aerospace manufacturing division and creating a juggernaut in the industry. With the addition of Signal's Garrett division to the Bendix side of Allied's business, aerospace became the largest business segment of Allied-Signal (the new corporate identity).
In 1999, AlliedSignal (renamed from Allied-Signal) acquired Honeywell, the well-known manufacturer of household thermostats. In addition to consumer goods, Honeywell was a major manufacturer of aerospace technology because of its acquisition of Sperry Aerospace in 1986. This resulted in one of the world's largest aerospace technology manufacturers.
The group took the name Honeywell because it was more recognizable than AlliedSignal. The merger was valued at $15 billion.
The Allied Chemical Plant and Asbestos
In the majority of the 1900s, various forms of asbestos were used as insulation in cases where fire or temperature extremes were a concern. Therefore, it was not uncommon for facilities such as the Allied Chemical Plant in California to be made with materials that contained asbestos. Resistance to chemical reactions is perhaps a less well-known property of some kinds of the fibrous mineral. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in protective garments, bench and counter tops and lab equipment. Asbestos, however, carried a notable downside that was not understood or at times deliberately ignored: serious and often fatal medical conditions were caused by asbestos exposure.
Generally, amosite was the variety of asbestos utilized. When mixed with chrysotile, which is resistant to heat and bases but not as resistant to acidic compounds, amosite creates materials that are particularly effective at preventing damage from corrosive substances. Although it was prohibited from use as a construction material in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was utilized for many years in oil refineries and chemical plants throughout the United States.
Asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces, sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and laminated in the same way cement could. This form of asbestos did not pose a health hazard so long as it was solid. As asbestos-containing transite ages and become prone to becoming powdery, however, deadly, tiny fibers can flake off into the atmosphere. Asbestos in this condition is called friable, which translates to easily crushed. In addition, laboratory and chemical plant kilns frequently contained friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Asbestos particles, when they are friable, are readily released into the atmosphere. Inhaling asbestos fibers can lead to conditions like asbestosis or cancer. In addition, exposure to asbestos has been shown to be the leading causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, a rare but all too often fatal cancer affecting the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, which happens when those microscopic fibers are released into the air and land on food or in drinks, can result in pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.
During the last twenty years medical researchers have discovered much information concerning the risks associated with asbestos exposure, and therefore there are strict guidelines regulating its use. However, when plants such as the Allied Chemical Plant in California were first operating, the use of asbestos was much more prevalent. Before modern laws were enacted, employees often labored without protective equipment in environments where asbestos particles filled the atmosphere.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
Asbestos cancer, in contrast to many on-the-job injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, may take many, many years to manifest. When a former worker begins exhibiting symptoms such as a chronic cough, pain in the chest or abdomen and difficulty breathing, his or her doctor might not at first identify asbestos exposure as a factor, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. Those who were employed by or lived around places such as Allied Chemical should therefore tell their health care professionals about the possibility of asbestos exposure. Furthermore, spouses of these people are also in danger, since unless strict safety measures, including the use of on-site showers, were followed, it was common for workers to bring home asbestos particles on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothes.Sources
AlliedSignal - Corporate History
Honeywell - Our History
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal