Asbestos exposure has long been known to cause health problems, including the deadly cancer mesothelioma. Because of that, it has been removed from many products in which it was previously commonplace, and specific protections are required when people encounter it. But a group of workers in an Alabama chlorine plant says they’ve been exposed to asbestos as recently as 2019 with no protection or notification.
At the Olin Corp. chemical factory in McIntosh, Alabama, certain designated asbestos workers were given proper protective gear and training. But none of the other staffers or contract employees received protection from the harmful chemical. And they reported frequent exposure to airborne asbestos throughout the years the substance was used from 1999 to 2019. One custodial worker said she scraped asbestos off walls and disposed of the protective gear worn by the asbestos group. A pipe fitter said asbestos would go flying through the air in his work area, and he and his co-workers definitely breathed it in. His sister, a lab analyst who also worked in the factory, died of lung cancer in 2017.
The McIntosh plant was constructed in the 1950s and began using asbestos in 1978. Workers say they were told they could keep the asbestos safe by keeping it wet, but it would quickly dry out and become airborne. The residue would cake equipment and the building. In preparation for visits from regulators, the company would ensure the plant was cleaned of asbestos residue, but the day-to-day buildup was allowed to remain.
Older chlorine plants use asbestos to coat metal screens that sit in vats of chemicals. The coating needs to be refreshed periodically, so workers remove the old asbestos by pressure washing and then bake on a new asbestos coating. Newer plants no longer rely on asbestos, but the company claims that upgrades to older plants are too expensive and will not result in significant health improvements for workers. Olin Corp. told shareholders that the McIntosh plant stopped using asbestos, but two other U.S. plants still use the chemical.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that is resistant to electricity, corrosion, and fire. Because of these properties, it has been used to improve the performance of construction materials, automotive parts, and other industrial products. However, the fibers can quickly become airborne, which is where much of the exposure risk occurs. These fibers may be released during the regular use of industrial products or during demolition projects that use asbestos-containing materials.
In addition to industrial uses, asbestos can contaminate unrelated products because they are typically found together in nature. One of these is talc, which is often found near asbestos and can become contaminated by asbestos.
The United States has banned mining for asbestos and has outlawed the use of asbestos in many products. However, it can still be imported from other countries for industrial use, which is how the Olin company gets the asbestos used in their chlorine plants.
What health problems are related to asbestos?
In the short-term, asbestos can cause breathing problems. Asbestosis is caused when the fibers enter the lungs and cause minor trauma to lung tissue. Over time, this trauma causes scars that make breathing difficult. It can also lead to pleural disease, characterized by a buildup of fluid around the lungs or thickening or plaques on the pleural membrane around the lungs and chest cavity. These changes to the membranes also make it hard to breathe. These conditions can exacerbate colds, flu, and other respiratory conditions, turning a minor infection into a dangerous disease.
Asbestos is also considered a carcinogenic chemical. It can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma, a highly deadly cancer of the pleura and other membranes near the lungs. It has also been linked to cancers of the larynx, ovaries, stomach, and colon.
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Seek justice with the help of our experienced asbestos attorneys. Our asbestos law firm has represented individuals like you affected by asbestos exposure for over 20 years, aggressively fighting the corporate giants responsible for their dangerous products. If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos or suffered from a disease caused by asbestos, like mesothelioma, we can help.