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USS-POSCO Industries has operated as a joint venture between the United States Steel Corporation and POSCO (based in the Republic of Korea) since 1986. The corporation operates steel finishing facilities and manufactures cold rolled sheet steel, galvanized sheet steel and tin mill products derived from hot rolled steel. The history goes back much longer, however.

The USS-POSCO steel finishing plant in Pittsburg, California, originally opened in 1960. At the time, the operation was a single building and one 150-ton open hearth that was run by Columbia Steel. The plant furnished steel castings for a variety of industries.

The plant expanded over time, including the West Coast's first nail mill in the 1920s as well as the first hot dip tin mill. In the 1930s and 1940s, the plant was extended again with facilities and equipment that would enable the plant to supply major public works projects and to increase production to keep up with the demands of World War II. By the end of 1960s, the Pittsburg steel plant had added a pipe mill, cold rolling mills, and continuous feed lines. These advancements earned the plant the distinction of having the most diverse product line of any in the United States.

The plant continues to be in use today despite setbacks throughout its existence. Currently, the USS-POSCO mill in California employs close to 1,000 employees and produces steel products that are shipped to more than 100 customers in the western United States.

USS-POSCO Industries and Asbestos

During most of the 1900s, various forms of asbestos were chosen as an insulator in cases where flames or extreme heat was a danger. Plants like USS-POSCO Industries, therefore, were usually made using asbestos-containing materials. Resistance to reactive chemicals is perhaps a less well-known property of various kinds of the fibrous mineral. Ceiling tiles, insulation, work surfaces, even protective uniforms, therefore, often were made with the fibrous mineral. There is little doubt that asbestos was very good at safeguarding against heat and flames. This strength, however, was accompanied by a horrible cost in terms of human health.

Amosite was frequently the kind of asbestos used in these facilities. The brownish color associated with amosite comes from iron molecules in its chemical composition; this also causes amosite to be resistant to acidic chemicals, such as those manufactured in plants like USS-POSCO Industries. This amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, appeared in refineries, laboratories and chemical plants across the US for many years before being outlawed in building materials in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite possessed properties similar to cement; it could be molded into working surfaces, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and laminated. Generally, new items made with transite were considered safe since the asbestos fibers were trapped in the transite. As asbestos-containing transite ages and become prone to crumbling, however, deadly, tiny fibers can flake off into the air. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, a term used for material that is easy to pulverize. In addition, laboratory kilns almost always were fabricated with friable asbestos in insulation linings.

Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad

Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this state the fibers are easily dispersed into the air. Inhaling asbestos particles can cause conditions like cancer. In addition, exposure to asbestos has been shown to be the leading cause of mesothelioma, a rare but frequently lethal disease of the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma result from ingesting fibers of asbestos, which is likely if microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or drinks.

Since research resulted in more understanding of the risks of asbestos exposure, people today are protected by strict rules controlling the use of asbestos. When USS-POSCO Industries was first operating, however, the use of asbestos was more common. Any asbestos that remains from that period may still pose danger if special care is not taken during remodeling jobs.

The Ticking Bomb

As opposed to most job-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the incident, asbestos-related illnesses may take many, many years to manifest. It can also be hard to identify malignant mesothelioma because the symptoms can be mistaken for those of other, less serious disorders. It is very important, therefore, that folks that were employed by or lived near facilities such as USS-POSCO Industries tell their doctors about the chance of asbestos exposure. Such information can enable physicians to make a timely diagnosis; and especially with mesothelioma cancer, the sooner it is caught, the better the chances of surviving or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life.


Sources - USS-POSCO Industries

Business Week - Investing Information USS-POSCO

California Department of Toxic Substances Control - Information on USS-POSCO Industries

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

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal


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