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Dow Chemical Plant

The Dow Chemical Company was set up in 1897 by Herbert Henry Dow, a chemist of Canadian origin. Headquartered in Midland, Michigan, the Dow Chemical Company, as of February 2009, was the world's third-largest chemical company by market capitalization, behind BASF and DuPont.

Dow in California

Dow has six manufacturing and research facilities in California, the largest being Pittsburg Operations, which was set up in 1939. Pittsburg Operations supports two of the six global businesses, Dow AgroSciences and Performance Chemicals, making it the largest integrated chemical manufacturing facility on the West Coast. Other manufacturing facilities include one in Rancho Cucamonga and two in Torrance, at Crenshaw Blvd. and Hawthorne Blvd. Dow also has a Corporate R&D facility in San Diego, which applies biotechnology to enhance production from renewable resources.

Legal proceedings against Union Carbide

In October 2002, a West Virginia court found Union Carbide, one of the subsidiaries of Dow Chemical, responsible for thousands of asbestos-induced deaths. About 2000 litigants alleged exposure to asbestos insulation in one of Union Carbide's plants. Others complained of exposure to asbestos products manufactured by the company till 1985. The company defended itself by stating that the calidria type of asbestos used in their products was safe, though medical studies indicate that there is little difference between calidria and other forms of asbestos.

Evasive tactics

In total contradiction of acquisition norms, Dow Chemical denies any liabilities incurred through Union Carbide, in spite of the latter being a wholly owned subsidiary since 2001.

Dow Chemical is part of the Asbestos Study Group, which also includes corporate giants like Honeywell, General Motors and General Electric. The group attempted to deny asbestos victims the right to sue by spending about $23 million dollars influencing Congress members to pass Senator Arlen Specter's FAIR act, which was ultimately rejected in committee in 2006.

History of environmental hazards

As early as 1979, Dow Chemical was accused of suppressing information about the degree of toxicity of dioxin, an ingredient of Agent Orange, used by US soldiers in Vietnam. In 1984, a toxic gas leak at Union Carbide's factory in Bhopal, India, left 20,000 dead and 100,000 injured.

Dow Chemical is the tenth-worst corporate polluter in the United States, accounting for about 700,000 tons of toxic gases every year.

Chemical Plants and Asbestos

For the majority of the 20th century, the mineral called asbestos was chosen as a building material whenever flames or extreme heat was a risk. Facilities such as Dow Chemical Company, therefore, were often constructed with asbestos-containing materials. Resistance to chemical reactions is perhaps a less well-known property of certain forms of asbestos. Given the type of work that goes on in chemical plants, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in factory buildings, but also in safety garments, bench and counter tops and coating materials. There is no doubt that asbestos was excellent at safeguarding against high heat or flames. This ability, however, was accompanied by a terrible price in terms of human health.

For the most part, amosite was the type of asbestos utilized. The brown color of amosite is a result of iron molecules in its chemical makeup; this also causes amosite to be resistant to corrosive substances like those used in plants like Dow Chemical Company. This amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, appeared in refineries and labs across the United States for decades before it was outlawed as a construction material in the 1970s.

Like cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and molded into working surfaces. This form of asbestos did not present a health hazard while it stayed solid. However, when asbestos-containing transite aged, it was prone to becoming powdery, which caused the deadly, tiny particles to float into the atmosphere. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, which is defined as easily pulverized. The insulation lining of laboratory ovens also often contained friable asbestos.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

Friable asbestos is dangerous since in this state the fibers are readily released in the atmosphere. If a person breathes these particles, they can damage the lungs, resulting in cancer. Mesothelioma, a rare and often fatal disease of the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity), has been shown to be linked with exposure to asbestos. If the particles of asbestos in the air settle on food or drinks and are then swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma may occur, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.

During the last few decades medical researchers have discovered a lot concerning the risks that accompany asbestos exposure, and as a result there are stringent laws regulating its use. Asbestos use was much more prevalent, however, when facilities such as Dow Chemical Company were constructed. And in way too many cases workers used materials containing asbestos when they did not have the benefit of protective equipment.

A Time Bomb

One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is that resulting diseases may take many, many years to appear - frequently long after a worker has left the employer. The symptoms of mesothelioma cancer - dyspnea (i.e., shortness of breath), a persistent cough and pain in the chest or abdomen - can often be mistaken for those of other conditions. Hence, it is vital for people who worked at or spent much time near sites like Dow Chemical Company to notify their doctors about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Furthermore, all those who shared homes with these people are also at risk, because unless strict decontamination protocols, like the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were followed, it was common for workers to bring home asbestos particles on themselves or their clothing.

Sources

Sources

Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception. (New York: Touchstone, 2003

BBC News. "Response: Union Carbide and Dow Chemical." 25 November 2004.

The Center for Public Integrity - Dow Chemical Company
http://www.publicintegrity.org/superfund/Company.aspx?act=10312

Girion, Lisa - Dow Chemical Liable in Asbestos-Related Case
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/10/25/1035504882353.html

Lezon-Geyda, K. et. al - Chrysotile Asbestos Fibers Mediate Homologous Recombination in Rat2 Lambda Fibroblasts: Implications for Carcinogenesis (Mutation Research, 12 December 1996, vol. 361 (2-3): pp.113-42)

O'Beirne, Kate - The Worst Bill Money Can Buy: Revisiting Asbestos - Again (National Review, vol. 58 no. 3, 27 February 2006)

Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis - The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005
http://olpa.od.nih.gov/legislation/109/endinglegislation/asbestos.asp

Political Economy Research Institute - THE TOXIC 100: Top Corporate Air Polluters in the United States
http://www.peri.umass.edu/Toxic-100-Table.265.0.html

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/EHSRM/ASB/acmimages3.html

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/EHSRM/HAZEXCEPTIONS/a.html

Wilcox, Fred - Waiting For an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange (Santa Ana: Seven Locks Press, 1999)

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