Steel Mills, Asbestos, and Mesothelioma
The cost of steel isn’t just dollars and environmental damage but the harm inflicted on workers due to extreme working conditions. For decades a normal part of the job was asbestos exposure. Decades later, many steelworkers have lung cancer and mesothelioma caused by asbestos ingested on the job.
Before its heavy regulation in the 1970s, asbestos was cheap and abundant. Industries also took advantage of the facts asbestos was also strong, light, didn’t conduct electricity, didn’t corrode, and was resistant to heat and fire. It was part of thousands of products over time, many used in steel mills.
Molten steel can be heated from 2370 to 2800 degrees in a mill. Given asbestos’ resistance to heat and fire, it should come as no surprise steel mills were heavy asbestos users.
What Do Steel Mill Workers Do?
Making steel on an industrial scale is a complex process requiring many people with different skills and responsibilities. Some of the jobs in a steel mill include:
- Maintenance worker
- Furnace operator
- Steel lather/millwright
- Railroad worker
Some of these positions had more asbestos exposure than others. Given that lightweight, practically invisible asbestos fibers could float through the air, simply working in a steel mill would expose you to asbestos.
How Were Steel Mill Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos was used in steel mills as insulation and as part of machinery through the end of the 1970s. Anywhere it’s still in place is potentially hazardous to workers’ health.
Asbestos insulation was used because it prevented fires and burns. It was used on:
- Coke Ovens
- Hot blast stoves
- Rolling mills
- Molding boards
- Steam pipes
- Electrical equipment
Asbestos products used in steel mills include:
- Building materials such as ceiling and floor tiles, liner boards, and paints
- Insulation was on furnaces, steam pipes, and virtually anything that may be hot
- Machinery products likebrake pads, clutches, pumps, and other machine parts
- Protective clothing such as gloves, masks, aprons, and leggings
- Hot Tops used with ingots and molds
Fibers came loose as products were installed, damaged, worn out, repaired, and replaced. Given the constant noise, heat, and physical vibrations of a steel mill, fibers were constantly shed into the worksite’s air. They piled up on equipment and the floor.
What are the Dangers of Asbestos to Steel Mill Workers?
Asbestos is hazardous when its fibers are airborne, then inhaled or swallowed. Fibers, because they can’t be broken down by the body, may be in steel mill workers for as long as they live and beyond.
Inhaled and swallowed asbestos fibers often lodged in the:
- Pleura (the membrane lining the chest cavity and lungs)
- Pericardium (the membrane covering the heart)
- Digestive tract and abdominal organs
- Peritoneum (the membrane lining abdominal organs and the abdominal cavity)
When the body encounters something foreign like an asbestos fiber, it may determine it’s a threat and try to destroy it. That process ends up doing more harm than good:
- Asbestos fibers aren’t affected by cells trying to destroy it
- Those cells end up dying, spilling out enzymes onto nearby tissue
- That causes scarring and inflammation
- If enough fibers are in the lung, this could result in asbestosis, which severely limits a person’s breathing ability
- Over years or decades, affected tissue cells could mutate to the point they become malignant
- Lung cancer could result, which is far more likely if the person smoked
- Mesothelioma, an aggressive and fatal cancer, could develop in the pleura, pericardium, and peritoneum
Asbestos fibers start a domino effect in organs where they end up. The result is conditions that can disable and kill people who worked in steel mills.
How Hazardous is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is treatable but for most incurable. Treatment may reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life and extend it. There are many variables determining how long you’ll survive, including your overall health, age, and type of mesothelioma:
- Pleural mesothelioma: It’s estimated that about 12% of those diagnosed will be alive five years after diagnosis. If the disease is found early, that figure improves to 20%. But it falls to 8% if your condition is advanced and the disease spreads throughout your body
- Peritoneal mesothelioma: Researchers publishing a 2013 article in the European Journal of Cancer looked at the treatment outcomes of 108 patients. Nearly half (43.6%) were alive seven or more years after treatment ended
- Pericardial mesothelioma: This is the rarest and the deadliest of the three. A study of pericardial mesothelioma patients found they lived, on average, two months after diagnosis
Few mesotheliomas are not caused by asbestos. If you’re diagnosed with one of them, it’s almost certain asbestos is to blame.
Call Us Today for A Free Consultation
Satterley & Kelley lawyers can respond to your questions and advise you of your rights to compensation for getting mesothelioma while working in a steel mill.