The Birmingham Steel Corporation was founded in 1983 by AEA Investors Inc. They had one distinct goal - to purchase existing steel mills that were on the verge of going out of business, and then reinvigorate them to become better functioning and profitable companies.
Their first acquisition was the Birmingham Bolt Co. in Alabama, a facility that produced rebar and steel merchant products. James A. Todd was the CEO of the company, which also owned a sister steel mill in Kankakee, Illinois. Todd referred to the two locations as the "oldest, meanest, most terrible mills in the nation" and was eager to sell. By 1985 Birmingham Steel had taken over both mills, and soon after the corporation began taking over other small steel producing sites across the country.
The process of taking over a steel mill came with many challenges. Most of the facilities were small, run down and needed a great deal of work. Birmingham Steel was well aware of this, and accepted the difficulties involved. One thing they may not have planned for, however, was the presence of a toxic material within the locations they were purchasing. Most every steel mill built in the United States prior to the 1980's contained a vast array of items that were made from asbestos, a poisonous mineral that harmed millions of people.
Asbestos was first mined in America around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Back then it wasn't recognized as being a harmful material, and most people didn't realize the dangers of simply being around asbestos until that late 1970's. By then it was in use as a key ingredient in hundreds of different products, many of which were commonly utilized in industrial settings like steel mills. Items such as insulation and fire resistant clothing contained large amounts of the mineral, because it has the ability to withstand tremendous heat and even stop the spread of a small blaze.
As the Birmingham Steel Corporation grew and prospered, they increased their work force to meet their production needs. In turn, this caused a larger number of people to be exposed to the harmful products that were found at the work sites. People who spent time around these tainted goods were likely to breathe in tiny asbestos fibers that would cling to the lining of their respiratory system. Those fibers often did great amounts of damage over time, and could cause people to suffer from breathing disorders and more serious health conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. These illnesses are very serious, and have claimed many lives of unsuspecting victims.
Although Birmingham Steel thrived for many years, over time a loss of business combined with a large number of lawsuits filed by employees who were made ill by asbestos exposure took its toll. In June, 2002, the company filed for bankruptcy protection, and later that year the majority of their mills and other assets were purchased by the Nucor Corporation.