The fact that asbestos causes respiratory illnesses has been known for over 2,000 years, and has been scientifically documented since 1897. The suppression of this information is also a matter of public record.
Virtually everyone on earth is exposed to asbestos to some degree; it is a group of silicates, or rock-like minerals that occur naturally in the earth. Through the centuries, it has been used for everything from clothing and lamp wicks to automotive brake pads. It is not only flame and heat resistant, it is also a poor heat conductor (in other words, heat does not spread throughout the material as it would a piece of metal). This has made it ideal for a wide range of industrial and manufacturing uses.
If you have ever worked in one or more “high-risk” environments such as an aluminum plant, it is vital to get regular check-ups by a qualified physician. Several forms of asbestos cancer, such as mesothelioma, are most treatable in the early stages, so if it is caught in time, chances of long-term survival are greatly enhanced.
How Aluminum Workers are at Risk
Aluminum is a post-transition metal, part of a group of metallic elements that also includes tin and lead. It is found in bauxite ore. This is typically strip mined, since this ore tends to lie near the surface.
Aluminum is extracted from bauxite ore by dissolving it in a synthetic compound of sodium, calcium and fluoride. In order to reduce the ore to a pure metal, it is necessary to heat the reduction cells to around 960 degrees Celsius (about 1,760 degrees Fahrenheit). These reduction cells are one place in which asbestos may be used for lagging, or heat shielding.
Typically, asbestos was wrapped around these reduction cells, as well as any conduits through which heated solution is carried. Asbestos was mixed with cement, which was then sprayed onto these pipes.
As long as the cement was in place, there was no danger from asbestos. The problem is that cement starts to crumble as it ages. As a result, the asbestos fibers become friable; in other words, the flake off and begin to float in the air, where they are easily breathed in by unsuspecting, unprotected workers.
The practice of wrapping heated pipes and conduits in asbestos-impregnated cement (also done to heating pipes in certain institutional buildings) was outlawed in most countries after 1973. Nonetheless, many such asbestos-covered pipes remained in buildings and factories for many years afterwards.
Other Asbestos Risks In The Aluminum Industry
In addition to those actually employed in the manufacture of aluminum, other workers who were employed in the aluminum industry prior to 1980 may also be at risk. These employees include sheet metal workers, particularly those whose job it was to install aluminum ductwork in the crawlspaces of buildings constructed prior to 1975, as well as insulation workers. Those who worked in the auto parts industry and construction trades that involved handling aluminum paneling more than thirty years ago may also be at risk.