Asbestos is not used in steel-making to produce steel. Nevertheless, steelworkers experienced significant asbestos exposure because asbestos was used extensively as insulation for the machinery used for steel production, including steel furnaces, ovens, stoves, rolling mills, and boilers. Asbestos was also used for fireproofing the steel-making machinery components and as insulation boards for the steel molds.
Why Asbestos Exposure Matters
Asbestos creates an airborne risk. Abrasion of any asbestos materials causes it to release tiny fibers that float in the air. When people inhale these fibers, they lodge in the lungs and cause scarring. Over many years, these scars may cause a rare form of lung cancer to develop called mesothelioma.
Asbestos Banned for New Construction
The use of asbestos in construction was banned in the United States during the 1970s. Buildings constructed after the ban went into effect could not use asbestos. The problem is that most of the buildings used for steel production were built before the 1970s. Efforts are still ongoing to contain or remove asbestos from many buildings that contain it.
Asbestos is not easy to safely remove because the removal process causes the fibers to be dislodged from the asbestos materials and puts a cloud of harmful particles in the air. To breathe safely, a removal team must wear hazmat suits and have air filtration systems that block the asbestos fibers from getting into the lungs Transportation and safe storage of the removed asbestos creates other problems. The process is expensive.
Asbestos Exposure Lawsuits in the Steel Industry
Even though asbestos removal and building remediation are expensive, it is more expensive for steel companies not to protect their workers from the harm caused by asbestos fiber inhalation, leading to lung cancer and mesothelioma.
A jury awarded a $250 million judgment against U.S. Steel for a case brought by the attorneys for Roby Whittington. He worked at the company for 31 years, from 1950 to 1981. In 2001, 20 years later, he contracted mesothelioma. The disease may take decades to present; however, there is a direct correlation between asbestos exposure and an increased risk of contracting mesothelioma.
A British Medical Journal study published in 2015 showed that metal workers exposed to asbestos had three times the risk of getting mesothelioma when compared to a control group of the general population not working in the metal industry.
Workers at steel mills experienced asbestos exposure even when not directly involved in the steelmaking process. Asbestos was in all kinds of things, including ceiling tiles, floor tiles, refractory bricks, and liner boards. It was common to use asbestos blankets to cover steel ladles. The handling of these items containing asbestos caused the fibers to dislodge and become airborne. Even the office workers got exposure to the airborne asbestos particles. Once these fibers get into the lungs, they do not come out and cause damage to the lungs as they build up over time.
Asbestos Exposure Risk is Not Over
Mesothelioma may take twenty or more years to show up in a person’s lungs. LTV Steel filed for bankruptcy in 2001 because of its inability to pay the claims for asbestos-caused mesothelioma contracted by its workers. This left all the LTV Steelworkers, who need medical care, without support. The bankruptcy judge approved the liquidation of the company’s assets and eliminated all of the previous employees' health coverage.
Workers for other companies still have problems. These include AK Steel, Keystone Steel & Wire Co., Porter Hayden Co., USX Corporation, Weirton Steel, and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp., and many others.
If you, or a loved one, worked in the steel industry and contracted mesothelioma, contact an attorney at Cooney & Conway to get a free consultation.