Not only does the northwest boast vast swaths of old growth forest land, the mining operations across the state have proven incredible profitable. Access to the Pacific Ocean has proven too good to pass up – mineral processing plants have appeared along the Columbia River and other major waterways. Because of its prime waterway location, shipbuilding became an enormous industry for both Vancouver and Portland. To support those industries, Kaiser Aluminum, among other industry giants, built processing plants in the vicinity. Not only did the manufacturing boom help to populate the area, the growth of the economy transformed the former trading post into a thriving metropolitan area. The rapid expansion was not all good, however. For many, they’d unknowingly sacrificed their health for the benefit of their employers.
In many industrial plants, asbestos is used to insulate heating elements. The processing and producting of cast aluminum requires intense heat – followed by adequate cooling systems. At the Vancouver center, Kaiser Aluminum used asbestos insulation for its heating elements and steam exhaust systems. Left on its own, this asbestos would have been mostly harmless. As heating elements and piping insulation wear out, though, the risk is two-fold. Heat-tempered asbestos becomes brittle and vulnerable to shedding. Further, asbestos is not a miracle material – it does need to be replaced. Tearing out and replacing asbestos insulation, be it in the form of bricks, or in the exhaust systems of the plant, throws asbestos dust into the air. If repairs are completely while the plant is operational, anyone working near the disturbed material may have suffered as a result. Because asbestos is deadly when airborne, improper ventilation and poor filtration mean that anyone working near the substance is likely to have been exposed.
When inhaled, asbestos fibers burrow into the lungs. As the fibers irritate the surrounding tissue, the lungs work to uproot the offending material, causing further damage without ousting the stubborn fibers. Asbestos exposure is cumulative – there is no expiration date on the damage done to your lungs once exposed. This is why asbestos is so dangerous – even minute interactions with the material can lead to significant respiratory distress later in life. As exposure levels increase, so does the chance of developing serious medical conditions. The most severe asbestos-related illness is the cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is said to occur when cancerous cells, generated by the lungs in response to asbestos, work their way through the inner tissue and infect the outer lining of the lungs. As the condition worses, the cancer may metastasize to other organ linings. It is an incredibly painful form of cancer, and one that is very difficult to treat.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you deserve justice. Employers should be held accountable for their neglect – the dangers of asbestos were known as early as 1930, yet many industries used it without informing their employees or protecting them from the danger. Respirators would have been sufficient. The fact that so many industries refused to supply them indicates an outright lack of concern for the health and well-being of employees. We can help you send them a message – on that shouldn’t need sending – that such practices are completely unacceptable.