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Are Aluminum Plant Workers Commonly Exposed to Asbestos?

Asbestos Exposure

Even though the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma was made in the 1960s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not start regulating asbestos until 1971. Yet, even in 2021, asbestos use is not completely banned in the United States. Although there are safety protocols to protect employees from the dangers, many could still be at risk or already sick.

People who were exposed to asbestos before the regulations were in place could now be dealing with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, since these illness can take up to 50 years to develop. Then, there are employees who currently work in older factories and jobsites that do not follow safety regulations. Here is a short list of the types of workers who may be more at risk for asbestos exposure:

  • Construction workers
  • Military service members
  • Asbestos mine workers
  • Ship and shipyard workers
  • Aluminum plant workers

Why Were Aluminum Plant Workers Frequently Exposed?

Up until the 1990s, aluminum plants used asbestos as insulation for boiling pots and other appliances and inside walls. The main reason that asbestos was widely used is because it is so heat-resistant. Asbestos was used for insulation during the aluminum smelting process, which dissolves alumina to produce aluminum metal. High heat is required for this process.

Asbestos was commonly used to insulate the pots used to melt materials. Chrysotile asbestos would also be sprayed into the area between the walls and into the pots to protect them from high heat. This caused tiny fibers to be released into their air, exposing workers to these dust-like particles. The particles would make their way into workers’ lungs, hearts, and stomachs. Asbestos fibers could easily get into the lining of the lungs, stomach, and heart and cause mesothelioma.

Aluminum plants had asbestos particles on the tools, equipment, and work surfaces. Asbestos was also used to insulate power turbines, motors, and other heavy plant machinery. Some employees even had protective clothing with asbestos in it. Although this was a step to protect the workers, it actually had the opposite effect.

Asbestos was not the only hazardous material in aluminum plants, either; employees may also have been exposed to aluminum fluoride, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. Nowadays, workers have more safeguards from these dangers, with personal protective gear and other safety measures. This does not necessarily eliminate all the risk though, especially in older buildings.

How Does Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma develops slowly and can be undetected for decades. When the fibers are ingested or inhaled, they get stuck inside the body. As time passes, the tissue that the fibers attach to becomes irritated and can develop scar tissue. This can then develop into deadly tumors. If the asbestos fibers find their way to a person’s lungs and attach to the lung lining’s mesothelial cells, it can become cancerous. These kinds of tumors are known to be aggressive, but usually go undiagnosed until it is too late.

Mesothelioma is not the only kind of illness caused be asbestos fibers. Employees can also suffer from more common lung cancers, kidney, gastrointestinal tract and throat cancer, or pleural effusions. They can also end up with asbestosis, which is a lung disease that causes impaired lung function or scarring of their lung linings.

Am I at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?

The National Cancer Institute claims that about 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and 90 percent of these are related to asbestos exposure. Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos becomes ill, though. Certain personal risk factors make people more susceptible to getting asbestos-related diseases. Anyone who smokes or already has lung problems or other health issues are more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma.

The work environment and work conditions also contribute to the likelihood of mesothelioma and the other health problems. It is always more hazardous when asbestos is released out into the air, through cutting, drilling, or sawing. If the asbestos was bonded into walls, this would be less problematic for workers. Any employee who does not wear personal protective equipment when working with or near asbestos is putting themselves at high risk.

Some signs of asbestos-related diseases do not become apparent until years have passed. Recognizable symptoms include a swelling around the face and neck, problems with swallowing, a long-lasting hoarseness in the throat, and shortness of breath. Others include a cough that will not go away, coughing up blood, chest or abdomen pain, fatigue, or loss of appetite. It is important to consult with a physician in these situations since the diseases can progress quickly after a certain point.

Asbestos Cases in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania ranks third for asbestosis and mesothelioma deaths. Here are some contributing factors to Pennsylvania’s high ranking:

  • Asbestos products were used to build and operate a large number of plants, industrial jobsites, and factories throughout the state.
  • Pennsylvania has 37 asbestos deposits in its southeastern and eastern regions.
  • Asbestos was used to build schools all over Pennsylvania. In the 2019 and 2020 school year, about 11 Philadelphia schools had to be shut down for asbestos remediation.

Can I be Compensated for Asbestos-Related Diseases?

There are state and federal laws to protect employees and the public from asbestos exposure. These rules manage how asbestos is transported, removed and disposed of, and there are labor laws and other asbestos regulation departments that are in place as well. Employees who are diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases may qualify to seek compensation from their past and present employers or asbestos manufacturers. In many cases, families have also sought compensation in wrongful death suits after their loved ones have passed away from these diseases.

Employees with asbestos-related illnesses can be overwhelmed by the conditions. They may need frequent, costly medical procedures, follow-up appointments, tests, and long-term care. Many patients miss work, cannot return to work in their former capacity, or can never work again. The physical and emotional pain and distress from these deadly diseases can also last a lifetime.

Those who decide to take legal action seek compensation for medical bills, transportation to medical appointments, lost time from work, and pain and suffering. The likelihood and amount of compensation depends on the type of illness, evidence, and state laws. In Pennsylvania, plaintiffs must have proof of a symptomatic, physical impairment to file these kinds of lawsuits. Pleural thickening by itself is not grounds to make a claim. However, if a plaintiff has a non-malignant asbestos-related disease and later develops an asbestos-related cancer, they may be able to file a lawsuit.

Philadelphia Asbestos Attorneys at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler Offer Skilled Legal Guidance for Aluminum Workers with Asbestos-Related Diseases

The occupational health risks from working with asbestos are a clear danger for aluminum plant workers, but not all businesses and corporations have taken the appropriate actions to protect their employees. The state and federal laws that apply to asbestos lawsuits can be complicated, so contacting a Philadelphia asbestos attorney at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler is beneficial. Call us at 215-569-4000 or complete our online form for a free consultation. We have an office located in Philadelphia, and we proudly serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Delaware County, Chester County, and Philadelphia County.