Crown Zellerbach Job Site – Port Townsend, Washington
In 1927, Port Townsend won a bid to be the location of Crown Zellerbach’s latest paper mill. Construction began shortly after. The plant began production on 1928. The infusion of industry into the area rehabilitated the port’s faltering economy. For the first time in many years, Port Townsend was showing stability and growth, both financially and physically. The Port Townsend mill produces kraft paper – used in grocery bags, reinforced-wall bags, and cardboard containers. The plant employed more than 600 workers during construction alone.
By 1930, the Crown Zellerbach Corporation was aware the dangerous of the asbestos used to insulate its paper mills. Reports show that it wasn’t until the 1980s that the plant began to recognize and warn employees of the dangers of asbestos. In the fifty years between, nearly all mill employees were at risk. In particular, those who were present during mill shutdowns and boiler maintenance may have been exposed to increased quantities of asbestos dust. Emergency repairs had the potential to shed stressed insulation as mechanical junctions were broken and replaced. Those working on the steam ventilation systems also came into contact with the material.
Despite a good effort to ignore the problem, the danger of asbestos made itself widely apparent. The rare cancer mesothelioma has been linked directly to inhalation of asbestos fibers. Chronic exposure can be a death sentence. Asbestos fibers become embedded in the lungs, damaging cells and harming lung capacity. As the damaged cells are replaced, malformations in cell reproduction lead to cancerous growths. When those growths metastasize, the subject is said to have developed mesothelioma – a cancer that targets the outer lining of the lungs. There is no cure for mesothelioma.
It’s no doubt that the paper mill saved the town of Port Townsend. However, in doing so, Crown Zellerbach ignored basic ethical guidelines. History has shown that employees have an absolute right to know the risks they’re taking doing their jobs. As a responsible employer, Crown Zellerbach should have provided safety equipment. The irrational thing about their behaviour is that very basic safety devices would have significantly reduced the risk. The refusal to take that step shows that the company’s interests lie more in profit than they do in employ welfare.
Employees that performed work inside the boilers – closed spaces with limited ventilation – were often breathing not only the dust that they kicked up performing their repairs, but also any that had accumulated there during the work of other tradesmen. In short, craftsmen at the Zellerbach plant can’t be divided into those who were immediately exposed and those who were not. In most circumstances, everyone in the plant was breathing the same air and the same dust.
We hope to represent those who were victimized by Crown Zellerbach, either at the Port Townsend mill or others controlled by the corporation. We’re committed to seeking justice – for those who are ill, but also for their families. Asbestos takes a toll on more than just the individual. If you have any questions about what services we can offer you, or if you’d like to schedule a free consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact us.