The Northwestern Steel and Wire Company was originally founded in 1879 as the Northwestern Barbed Wire Company in Rock Falls, Illinois. The company moved to Sterling, Illinois in 1912 where it remained until the company ceased operations. The name changed to the Northwestern Steel and Wire Company in 1938, two years after it began steel production.
Production at the company rose during World War I when they took on a very large role in manufacturing steel products needed and used in the war. The company continued to grow in size for many years with the number of employees reaching its height in 1980. At the time, it was the greatest employer in the state of Illinois with 4,678 employees. The steel depression in the 1980s and high business competition in steel making began to take a toll on the company. In 1998, they stopped making all wire products, and then declared bankruptcy in 2000. Their doors closed for good in May 2001.
The Northwestern Steel and Wire Company, like all other steel mills, made a large amount of their products with asbestos. The inhalation of asbestos dust is dangerous and known to cause a very deadly form of asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma. Asbestos can also cause other types of lung cancers and diseases to those that have been exposed to it. This means that the steel mill workers at this and other steel mill facilities are at high risk for asbestos related disease.
Products either manufactured from or insulated with asbestos include ladles, boilers and steam pipes, although there were numerous steel products that contained asbestos. Welders, pourers, casters, and machinists are just some of the professions falling under the broader term “steel mill workers”, that were possibly exposed to asbestos. If you have worked at a steel mill, it is important you seek prompt medical advice as you are at a higher risk for disease.
The Environmental Protection Agency found several issues with the Northwestern Steel and Wire Company in more recent years prior to its closing in 2001. One large violation found during inspection in February 1999 concluded that they were not disposing of hazardous waste properly. The company was ordered to build a system to collect the dust and sludge made by steel and wire production to be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill. The EPA estimated this would keep ten tons of hazardous waste from being released into the environment. One can only imagine how much asbestos and other dangerous materials were being leaked into the surrounding environment during all previous years of steel and wire production.
Companies using asbestos and companies supplying it for use knew the dangerous affects of asbestos on those exposed for many years. However, this was covered up for quite some time as large profits were put above thousands of human lives. The affects of asbestos exposure can take from fifteen to fifty years to be seen in some individuals, so the large impact on thousands of people across the nation is still being seen.