Over the past century, scientific advancements have revealed the hazards of asbestos exposure. How could we have known that this wildly abundant and, for all appearances, useful mineral would cause hundreds of thousands of deaths? Of course, we couldn’t have, especially since it can take anywhere from 15 to 50 years after initial asbestos exposure for an individual to show signs of asbestos-related illness.
Industrial exposure to asbestos was once particularly high, and it continues to present potential risks to this day. Laborers who have worked directly with asbestos or asbestos products are at high risk for asbestos-related medical complications such as asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and more.
This article will discuss how asbestos exposure impacts two particular professions: foundry workers and sheet metal workers.
Asbestos & Industry: A Brief Timeline
Asbestos was used heavily throughout the 19th century and the majority of the 20th century due to the fact that it was cheap, easily accessible, and widely available. Health issues caused by asbestos were not yet proven or accepted.
Before we get into the specifics of how asbestos exposure impacts foundry and sheet metal workers, let's review a quick timeline of how asbestos impacted the United States to better understand why we are still battling the repercussions.
- In 1858, asbestos was first officially mined in the United States for insulation usage by the Johns Company.
- In 1874, the first commercial asbestos mine was opened as a result of the Industrial Revolution.
- In 1918, a report revealing an abnormally high death rate among asbestos workers was published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- In 1930, asbestosis was discovered by Dr. E.R.A. Merewether, a famous researcher. He found that 25%, or 1 out of 4, of those who worked with asbestos had developed asbestosis.
- In 1933, asbestosis was diagnosed in an American insulation worker for the first time. It has since been proposed that previous cases of asbestosis may have been misdiagnosed as tuberculosis or similar diseases.
- In the mid to late 1940s, cancer and mesothelioma were determined to be linked to asbestos exposure in industrial workers using products made from asbestos in addition to asbestos workers themselves.
- In 1949, asbestos was finally accepted by the mainstream as a cause of occupational, industrial, and environmental cancer by the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- In 1953, mesothelioma was first officially reported in an insulation worker.
- In the early 1960s, multiple companies were found to have ignored warnings of the health risks that asbestos exposure imposed upon its workers and their families.
- In 1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, which allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to classify asbestos as an air pollutant. This enabled lawful regulation of the hazardous mineral.
- In 1978, the case of Barnett v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp et al took place. The South Carolina Circuit Court Judge James Price found that companies dealing with asbestos products consciously chose to cover up info concerning asbestos exposure to avoid lawsuits and prosecution.
- In 1989, the EPA attempted to phase out the use of asbestos in U.S. industrial production following the completion of a 10-year study.
- In 1991, in perhaps the most impactful event to modern society, the U.S. overturns the EPA’s 1989 asbestos ban due to pressure. As a result, asbestos can still be found in a wide variety of manufactured products to this day.
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Foundry Workers & Asbestos Exposure
The primary role of a foundry worker is to melt ore to create usable metals for production and sale. These metals include pure elements and their alloys such as iron, steel, copper, bronze, aluminum, brass, and more. The process in which they refine the metals themselves is known as casting, and they use sturdy molds and heavy machinery to accomplish the job.
Foundry workers are exposed to asbestos mainly through the equipment they use to perform their daily tasks. Here are some of the common tools and equipment that may contain asbestos:
- PPE such as aprons and gloves
The majority of these items contain asbestos is because of the thermal insulating properties of the mineral. Before the implementation of stricter asbestos laws, asbestos was used as general machinery insulation, hot tops, tank covers, and thermal gloves for industrial needs. These products, due to loopholes in asbestos policy, may very well be in service even still.
When asbestos-containing products wear down or are removed or worked on, they have a high chance of dispersing the hazardous microscopic mineral into the air or onto clothes and hands. This leads to primary and secondary exposure, which puts foundry workers and anyone they contact directly at risk.
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Sheet Metal Workers & Asbestos Exposure
Sheet metal workers use metals in various ways to install, assemble, or repair systems and machinery. Their work requires manipulating metal with heat such as welding and soldering or physically through shearing, punching, and pressing. Their expertise is vital to installing and maintaining HVAC systems, plumbing systems, roofing, gutters, and more. It also requires extensive vocational training to perform safely and expertly.
Many of the structures and machinery that sheet metal workers are required to perform work upon or with contain asbestos to this day. Examples of these include:
- Metal coatings and finishes
- Hot top insulation and boiler coverings
- Shingles and roofing materials
- PPE such as aprons and gloves
- Welding rods
Sheet metal workers often come into contact with asbestos-contaminated materials during various jobs. These include renovations of older buildings, working on plumbing and HVAC units, or working on naval vessels. Since the banning of widespread asbestos usage is relatively recent, we are still seeing sheet metal workers heavily affected by industrial exposure to this day.
Legal Options for Those Affected by Asbestos Exposure
If you or a family member has been exposed to asbestos due to an industrial profession, seeking medical and legal counsel immediately is advised. To talk with an expert regarding asbestos claims and how we can help, sign up for a free consultation with our team at Serling & Abramson today.