Alcan Aluminum Plant

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Alcan Incorporated was started in 1902 as the Canadian Division of the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). From 1925, when it was spun off from its parent company, until 1945, the company went by Aluminum Company of Canada; this was shortened to Alcan just after the Second World War.

In the mid 1960s, the company added Aluminium du Canada, Limiteé and Alcan Aluminium Limited. The company acquired the British Aluminum Company in 1982, and renamed the company British Alcan. A corporate merger attempt with the Swiss company Algroup and French Pechiney in 1999 was blocked by a European Union commission, fearing the formation of a monopoly, but Alcan eventually purchased these companies in 2000 and 2003, essentially circumventing the EU ruling.

The company is headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, and manufactures aluminum products for the aerospace industry as well as mass transit projects and construction materials.

The Asbestos Danger

Asbestos exposure does not result from the manufacture of aluminum directly, but rather from asbestos products in the factory ostensibly used to protect workers and machinery from fire and burns.

Because of the electrolysis method used to separate aluminum metal from the alumina, it does not require temperatures such as those used for smelting iron ore. Nonetheless, this electro-chemical process takes place at temperatures around 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit (980 Centigrade). Essentially, alumina is dissolved in a chemical solution (formerly cryolite, now a fluoride solution) and an electrical current is passed through the carbon-lined container (known as a “pot”). Once the metal has separated, this solution is drained away.

It was in one of these “pot rooms” that a plaintiff working at an aluminum plant in Washington State was exposed to asbestos dust, which eventually caused him to contract mesothelioma, a rare form of asbestos cancer that affects the linings of various organs, including the lungs, heart, and stomach, and is extremely fatal. The culprit turned out to the insulation used in the room that had been manufactured by an outside third party.

Determining Liability

In most asbestos cases, liability most often rests with a third-party manufacturer of a specific product, not the company at which the product is found. An example of a product that was used freely in many industrial plants prior to the 1980s is Monokote. This was a spray-on cement with asbestos-containing material (ACM) heavily marketed by the W.R. Grace company of Libby, Montana from the early 1960s up through the 1980s. It was extensively used to coat pipes, ductwork and machinery surfaces in many industries ranging from shipbuilding to power generation plants. Other asbestos products that might be found in industrial plants include patching compounds, paint and other types of insulating products.

Protecting Your Interests

Regulations and standards issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require employers to issue their workers proper protective equipment where there is risk of asbestos exposure. Employers who have knowingly violated these regulations are subject to heavy fines, and management may be held criminally liable by federal courts. It is important to report such violations if they are observed.

If you have an asbestos-related disease such as malignant mesothelioma and believe the asbestos exposure took place at your workplace, documentation is key to building a strong case. The court will need to know what products were present, how they were used, when they were installed, as well as the identity of the manufacturer and original vendor.