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DuPont Yerkes Plant

The DuPont Corporation has been involved in a wide variety of operations near Buffalo, New York, for well over one hundred years. Although the corporation did not initially operate a plant in the Buffalo area, near the Yerkes plant, DuPont did have black storage facilities in the region. Once the process for creating rayon - initially meant to be a synthetic replacement for silk - was developed, DuPont needed to expand.

The DuPont Yerkes Plant was established in the 1920s in the Buffalo area and named for Leonard A. Yerkes, who headed the DuPont Rayon Company at the time. Additionally, a research facility was established in this location in 1928. This research team grew and focused on product development for a number of years. In the 1940s, the Rayon Department Technical Division worked with rayon and developed Cordura - a high-tenacity form of the material used in tires. Though the team also made breakthroughs with nylon and Dacron, the research branch was relocated in 1950.

Research, however, was never the sole practice of the DuPont Yerkes Plant. Because cellulose experts were gathered in Buffalo by Yerkes to continue to work on improving and developing rayon, in 1924 DuPont also began the company's first cellophane manufacturing in the area. This continued until 1986. Cordura was manufactured in the plant until 1954, rayon until 1955.

Not all production has ceased at the DuPont Yerkes Plant, however. In 1962, the company began to manufacture Tedlar - a weather-resistant, vinyl chloride film - and, in 1967, Corian production began. These two products are still manufactured at the Yerkes Plant.

Asbestos in Chemical Plants

During much of the 1900s, in cases where fire or excessive heat was a concern, the mineral called asbestos was selected as a building material. Asbestos-containing materials, therefore, were commonly used when erecting chemical plants such as DuPont Yerkes Plant. In addition to being fireproof as well as temperature-resistant, some types of amphibole asbestos are also especially impervious to reactive chemicals. Given the type of work that occurs in chemical plants, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in factory buildings, but also in lab equipment, bench tops and safety clothes. And though the asbestos worked well in safeguarding against fire damage and in protecting lives from extreme heat, it also exposed those same people to serious health risks.

Amosite was often the type of asbestos used in these facilities. Frequently referred to as "brown asbestos", amosite is particularly resistant to acidic substances like those produced in chemical plants because of the iron in its chemical composition. This amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was used in laboratories, oil refineries and chemical plants throughout the country for many years before being banned for construction purposes in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite possessed qualities similar to cement; it could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and laminated. As long as asbestos transite was solid, this form of asbestos posed little danger. As this transite grows older and become prone to becoming powdery, however, deadly, microscopic particles can float into the air. Asbestos when it is in this condition is called friable, or able to be pulverized by hand pressure alone. Industrial ovens also almost always were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this form the particles can be easily dispersed in the environment. When someone breathes these fibers, they can damage the lungs, causing asbestosis or cancer. In addition, inhaling asbestos is known to be the primary causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, a rare but often lethal cancer affecting the mesothelium, the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are caused by swallowing asbestos fibers, which happens when the microscopic particles are released into the air and settle on food or in drinks.

In the last 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. The use of asbestos was more commonplace, however, when the DuPont Yerkes Plant was first operating. Before modern rules were put into place, workers often toiled without respirators or other protective gear in environments where asbestos dust clouded the air.

The Ticking Bomb

One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is that resulting illnesses may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear - frequently long after a worker leaves the employer. The symptoms of asbestos cancer - shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea), pain in the chest or abdomen and chronic coughing - can often be confused with the symptoms of other conditions. It is extremely important, therefore, that those who worked in or lived around chemical plants like DuPont Yerkes Plant tell their health care professionals about the chance of asbestos exposure. New treatments for mesothelioma cancer are being developed, and early detection gives the patient the highest chance to combat the previously deathly disease.


Sources - Buffalo, New York

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation - NYS Governor's Awards for Pollution Prevention DuPont Yerkes Plant - Environmental Release Report: DuPont Yerkes Plant

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

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

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