The city of Port Angeles was officially founded in 1862, but remained a remote, poorly populated outpost until the 1880s. Washington’s economy was experiencing a dramatic boom – the lumber and paper industries were rapidly discovering the incredibly bounty of the area. Immediate access to the Pacific Ocean opened the area to global trade. Nearly forty years later, the Zellerbach Paper Company invested in a paper mill in the area. The site became known as Crown Zellerbach Port Angeles pulp mill. It began production in 1921. Port Angeles’ economy was supported almost entirely by the mills. Only in the early 1960s, with the completion of the Hood Canal Bridge, did tourism begin driving money into the area.
As an industrial success story, the Zellerbach mill stood through the Depression and helped stabilize the local economy afterward. However, materials used in the plant’s day to day operations put workers at significant risk. The uncertain times following the New Deal and economic rebound may have kept Zellerbach executives from immediately informing employees of the newly discovered dangers of asbestos. That excuse is difficult to accept under the best of conditions. The fact that the company kept quiet about the known dangers of asbestos, that the industry as a whole made little effort to protect employees, is inexcusable.
Exposure at Crown Zellerbach was fairly widespread. Those working in and around the mill boilers are in particular danger. During a mill shutdown, insulation around the boiler is often replaced, throwing mountains of distressed asbestos dust into the air. Piping insulation, particularly for steam venting, also contained significant quantities of asbestos. The material’s heat resistance makes it ideal for these applications. Its use must come with responsible education and protection. On these grounds, many of the world’s largest industries have failed.
The danger of asbestos is in its fibrous makeup. Construction materials reinforced with asbestos are fire-retardant, but as they age, the asbestos begins to break down. The brittle material is easily broken into dust-like particles. If inhaled, those particles, actually asbestos fibers, can become embedded in the sensitive tissues of the lungs. The damage caused to the lungs by asbestos can evolve into several varieties of cancer. Mesothelioma, commonly accepted to be caused by asbestos exposure, is a cancer that inhabits the outer lining of the lungs. Because of its location inside the chest cavity, treatment can be very difficult. The body reacts to this sort of internal damage by producing fluids to contain the damage. This renders the disease almost as painful as it is to treat.
Working conditions that combine enclosed spaces, poor ventilation, and aged or heat-exposed asbestos can have deadly consequences for employees. The tragedy of asbestos is that its ailments would have been easy to prevent if industries had been willing to take the most basic of precautions. The Crown Zellerbach paper mill remains one of Port Angeles’ largest employers, though under a different name. The mill was sold to Daishowa American, then Nippon Paper Industries. It was employee-operated for some thirty years, but was eventually sold to ITT. Years later, it was purchased by an Alaskan Native village corporation. It currently operates under the name K-Ply.
If you or a loved one has worked at this job site, under any of its many names, and gone on to develop mesotheliomia or other asbestos-related illness, there may be legal options available to you. We offer free consultations to those who are interested. The outrage of asbestos isn’t that it was used – it still is used – the unbelievable fact is that it was used without notification or protection of those working closest with it. We seek justice for the individuals industry has wronged – contact us to learn how we can help.