Alcoa’s Malaga Washington based smelter, known as Alcoa Wenatchee Works, first opened its doors in 1952. Today, the site covers more than 2700 acres of land near the Columbia River, and employs more than 400 workers. Metal work was a very important and growing industry in the mid-20th century, and the extreme temperatures necessary to melt metals made the insulating properties of asbestos invaluable.
Asbestos was used to line super-heated ovens, to insulate scorching pipe works, and even in the gloves workers used to handle hot materials.
Although asbestos protected workers from heat and fire, it also posed a serious risk to their future health and well-being. The type of asbestos used in insulation was especially dangerous to workers because it was friable, meaning it crumbled easily to the touch, creating tiny inhalable fibers. These fibers would become lodged in workers lungs, and would be carried home to their families on their clothing, planting the seed for cancers that would develop decades later.
Common industrial practices of the mid-20th century did not take into account the safety of those working with and around asbestos. Like many other similar employers, Alcoa has been found to have placed its workers at unnecessary risk. In a 2009 case, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that Alcoa had failed in its “full duty to prevent its employees from going home at the end of the workday in clothes that are contaminated with asbestos fibers.”
History of Asbestos Exposure at Alcoa Wenatchee Works
At the time of the Malaga plant’s construction, asbestos was an extremely common material. A large industrial building like Alcoa Wenatchee Works would most likely contain asbestos throughout the structure, in everything from insulation to ceiling and floor tiles. If employees worked in close proximity to these materials while they were being installed, maintained, removed or in a deteriorating state, they may have been exposed to asbestos from the building itself.
The aluminum production industry carries many risks, including an association with increased rates of bladder cancer. Asbestos-related diseases, however, need not be an occupational risk if proper safety precautions are taken. The risks associated with airborne asbestos fibers were well understood by the mid-20th century; however employers and asbestos product manufacturers did not take steps to protect workers and their families for many decades. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses may take as many as fifty or more years to develop, and only now is the full extent of the public health crisis being felt.
If you or a loved one worked at Alcoa Aluminum’s Malaga-based smelter and suffer from mesothelioma you may be eligible for compensation. Serious illnesses can be overwhelming, take steps today to ensure that your family will not be left with a mountain of medical bills stemming from a preventable illness. As the only Pacific Northwest law firm devoted exclusively to mesothelioma litigation, Bergman Draper Oslund will fight hard for you. Call today for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.