In March of 2006, two former paper mill workers in the state of Maine filed suit against asbestos manufacturers. The plaintiffs allege they were exposed to asbestos fibers on the job, resulting in mesothelioma, a particularly aggressive form of asbestos cancer that attacks the lungs and ultimately suffocates the victim.
What is noteworthy is that the complaint does not name the two paper manufactures as defendants. Instead, the plaintiffs are suing an insurance company, a plumbing company and a number of other businesses that allegedly contributed to the asbestos hazard.
The manufacture of paper, while dangerous on many levels, does not normally involve the direct use of asbestos today. Papermaking originated in China during the Han Dynasty around 2000 years ago, and eventually reached Europe by the Late Middle Ages by way of India, the Muslim world and Moorish Spain. Although asbestos was known to ancient peoples, it was not then used directly in paper production any more than it is today.
The only exceptions are certain building materials manufactured by corporations such as Fiberboard Paper Products, Inc. and Johns-Manville during the early to mid-twentieth century.
Where There’s Heat…
Regardless of the industry – whether its oil, construction, paper, or anything else – if there is a heating process involved, the use of caustic chemicals, or a fire danger, it is almost certain that there was asbestos at some point. In older factories, asbestos may still be in any number of places. This is particularly true in the case of paper and pulp mills, as these industries have existed for decades in many communities.
Places where asbestos containing materials (ACM) are often found in older industrial plants include pipes and conduits, upon which may have been sprayed a substance such as Monokote – a type of insulation manufactured and marketed by the W.R. Grace Co. of Libby Montana through the 1980s. In addition, asbestos in the form of transite can be found on door panels and fume hood walls. It is also present in electrical insulation, asbestos core-doors and other fire-proofing materials, floor tile, paint, packing materials and heating pads.
As Asbestos Ages
The industry argued for many decades that asbestos was safe as long as it was undisturbed. This much is true. The problem is that asbestos insulation, coating and cement all become brittle with age. The asbestos fibers then become friable; they flake off, creating dust that is literally made up of microscopic needles that when inhaled, become embedded in the soft tissues of the alveoli, or air sacs of the lung.
By law, only authorized, trained personnel with proper protection are allowed to remove asbestos. Any asbestos waste generated in a building, residence or industrial plant of any kind is required to be properly contained, labeled as a hazard, and disposed of in accordance with environmental regulations.