Operations in Wyoming were established in 1962 by Stauffer Chemical Company, a major chemical manufacturer and Fortune 500 company.
Green River Soda Ash
Stauffer's major concern in Wyoming was the extraction of trona for the production of soda ash. Soda ash is used in the manufacture of glass, soaps and detergents, pulp and paper and other chemical products that were primary interests of Stauffer. The extraction of trona is done primarily in the Green River Basin of southwestern Wyoming.
This region contains the world's largest, purest and most accessible trona deposit. These deposits are the residue of prehistoric Lake Gosiute, which covered the southwestern part of the state more than 50 million years ago. Because the deposits have been laid down over millions of years, it is not surprising that they are mined in much the same way as coal. Circular shafts sunk deep in the earth provide access to the ore, and room and pillar mining are employed to prevent caving.
The trona beds are relatively shallow, measuring about 850 feet below the surface.
History of Stauffer in Wyoming
During a time of great financial difficulty for the American chemical industry, Stauffer's Wyoming operations fell into the hands of Chesebrough-Pond's USA in the mid-1980s. The financial difficulties experienced by Stauffer at the time were inherited by the new parent company. Eventually Chesebrough-Pond's was destabilized by the acquisition of Stauffer, and the whole enterprise was taken over by Unilever N.V. in 1986.
Today, Unilever - a Dutch-British multinational corporation - owns a majority of the world's consumer brands in foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. Unilever employs 174,000 people and has a worldwide revenue of $54.5 billion.
Asbestos in Stauffer Chemical's Wyoming Plant
In almost all of the last century, whenever extreme temperature or combustion was a danger, various forms of asbestos were chosen as a building material. Therefore, it was typical for facilities such as Stauffer Chemical's Wyoming Plant to be made with materials made with asbestos. Resistance to reactive chemicals is one of the other properties of various kinds of the fibrous mineral. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, work surfaces, even protective garments, therefore, often were made with the fibrous mineral. There is no doubt that asbestos was superb at safeguarding against combustion and high heat. This ability, however, came with a significant price in terms of human health.
Amosite was most often the kind of asbestos used in such locations. The brownish pigment of amosite comes from iron in its chemical composition; this also causes amosite to be resistant to acidic chemicals like those manufactured in facilities like Stauffer Chemical's Wyoming Plant. Although it was outlawed as a construction material in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was utilized for decades in refineries and labs throughout the country.
Asbestos transite could be laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes just like cement could. This form of asbestos did not pose a health risk so long as it stayed solid. With age, however, transite with asbestos-containing material (ACM) grows prone to crumbling, enabling microscopic fibers to flake off into the air. Asbestos in this state is considered friable, a term used for material that is easily crushed. Laboratory and chemical plant ovens also almost always were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
When friable, asbestos fibers are readily dispersed into the environment. If someone inhales these particles, they can harm the lungs, causing asbestosis or cancer. Mesothelioma, a rare and often deadly disease affecting the mesothelium (the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity), has been shown to be linked with exposure to asbestos. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma result from the ingestion of fibers of asbestos, which is likely when the microscopic particles are released into the air and land on food or in beverages.
Mounting pressure from the press, the medical community and concerned citizens forced the creation of rules controlling how to use asbestos. The use of asbestos was more prevalent, however, when Stauffer Chemical's Wyoming Plant was first operating. Before present-day safety regulations were enacted, workers often toiled without respirators or other safety gear in environments where asbestos dust clouded the air.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
In contrast to many on-the-job injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, asbestos cancer may take many, many years to develop. When a worker starts exhibiting symptoms such as pain in the chest or abdomen, a persistent cough and dyspnea, his or her physician might not immediately recognize asbestos as a factor, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. So, it is vital for everyone who worked at or spent much time near sites such as Stauffer Chemical's Wyoming Plant to notify their doctors about the possibility of exposure to asbestos. Experimental treatments for mesothelioma are being discovered, and early detection gives patients and their doctors the highest chance to combat the once deathly disease.Sources
Funding Universe - Chesebrough-Pond's
General Chemical - Green River Soda Ash Facility
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal