As the second-most populous county in Washington, Pierce County home to a number of thriving and innovative industries. Unfortunately, these innovations have often come at the cost of the health of employees. One longstanding risk to the health of employees is asbestos exposure. What should people know about the use of asbestos in the businesses around them?
How high are rates of asbestos-related disease in Pierce County?
Pierce County Washington has the second-highest number of asbestos-related deaths in the state of Washington, with an estimated total of 1082 lives lost between 1999 and 2017. This equals around 56 deaths per year.
The legacy of asbestos use in Pierce County
The manufacturing, maritime and military industries are key parts of the economy of Pierce County. Unfortunately, asbestos and components containing asbestos were frequently used in these industries prior to regulations in the late 20th century.
The Puget Sound area has long been a hub for maritime operations and shipping. Unfortunately, many ships built during the 1900s contain asbestos in boilers, insulation, joints, adhesive and many other components. As a result, studies indicate that people who worked aboard these ships face increased risk of respiratory cancer.
In addition to the maritime and shipping industry, the Puget Sound has also been a hub for military operations. Whether involved in naval operations or on land, veterans were often surrounded by mechanical components, vehicles and buildings that contained asbestos.
For most of the 20th century, the economy of Pierce County relied heavily on the lumber and paper industries. The boilers, pipes, insulation and building materials used in paper mills often contained asbestos. Studies have “significantly associated” asbestos-related disease with time spent working in the pulp and paper industry as a result.
The oil and refining industry is also a longstanding part of Pierce County’s economy. U.S. Oil & Refining Co. (USOR) has been in operation in Washington since the early 1950s. For much of the 20th century, oil refineries used asbestos to insulate the pipes that transported gases and fluids throughout the facility as well as in boilers and electrical systems. Workers that installed, repaired or maintained these systems prior to the 1990s would have likely been exposed to asbestos-containing materials.
Metal processing is another industry with a long history in Pierce County and a long history of asbestos use. For example, the Kaiser Aluminum facility began producing aluminum in 1942, and the facility produced as much as 161 million pounds of aluminum every year. The process of producing this metal involved asbestos at many steps because of its use in insulation and construction materials.
How has this use of asbestos in Pierce County industries impacted workers?
When asbestos becomes airborne around workers, they can easily breathe in these fibers. Once they enter the lungs, asbestos fibers can cause a number of different diseases, including cancers like mesothelioma. While these illnesses often take years or even decades to develop, they can be life-changing for both people and their families once symptoms arise.
Thankfully, workers and their families do not have to face the impact of asbestos exposure alone. Reaching out to an attorney with experience in asbestos-related claims can help them pursue compensation and justice.