Pulp and paper mills have helped build the communities in Cowlitz County. However, while pulp and paper companies have a longstanding legacy in the area and remain an important part of the local economy, these industries have also endangered workers’ health. One risk that employees in the pulp and paper industry and former employees should know is the risk of asbestos exposure in mills.
Pulp and paper mills in Cowlitz County
The Cowlitz and Columbia rivers have long made Cowlitz County an attractive location for the pulp, paper and lumber industry. In particular, the city of Longview was built to support industrial endeavors in the area, and Pacific Straw Board and Paper Company, Longview Fibre Company and Weyerhaeuser Timber Company all built factories in the community in the first half of the 20th century.
One significant part of the pulp and paper industry in Cowlitz County is the Weyerhaeuser Company. Thousands of people work with this company in facilities like the mill in Longview, and the company is one of the top paper producers in the United States.
Another key part of the pulp and paper industry in Cowlitz County is Longview Fibre Company. This company was founded in 1926 and produced more than a million tons of paper products during some years.
Asbestos use in the pulp and paper industry
While these mills have been a vital part of the community in Cowlitz County, they have also significantly impacted the health of the people in this area due to their longstanding use of asbestos products.
Because of its fire-resistance and strength, asbestos was frequently used in lumber, pulp and paper mills to manage the heat involved in the manufacturing process. Before government regulations restricted its use, asbestos could be found insulating the boilers and pipes used throughout a mill, electrical systems, cement, roofing, floor tiles, adhesives, dryer felts and many other components.
While most industries have discontinued use of this dangerous carcinogen, many workers still experienced exposure. In addition to the risk of exposure while asbestos use was at its height, workers maintaining or replacing old equipment could also experience exposure when drilling or cutting old components.
The health impact of asbestos exposure in paper mills
Workers employed in pulp and paper mills are at increased risk of cancer, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. A study of pulp and paper workers employed between 1945 and 1996 as well as a study of Norwegian workers employed between 1920 and 1993 showed that maintenance workers were at particular risk. Unfortunately, workers may not know that they were exposed or develop symptoms until decades after their work put them in contact with asbestos.
This is reflected in the high rate of asbestos-related deaths experienced by the community in Cowlitz County. People in Cowlitz County pass away as a result of asbestos exposure at more than twice the national average rate, with around 11.9 asbestos-related deaths for every 100,000 people.
When workers in the pulp and paper industry experience asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma, they may want to explore their legal options with an experienced attorney. Not only can an attorney help them better understand their options, they can support them as they pursue compensation.