Aside from the fact that asbestos was used in virtually every part of building construction prior to 1980, the fact that the production of potato chips involves the use of deep-fat fryers operating at high temperatures should make the recent discovery at a plant in Jackson, Tennessee, no surprise.
Nonetheless, when work crews removing an obsolete potato chip cooker last month discovered asbestos insulation underneath, management was taking no chances; although it is apparently not in a friable, or crumbling condition, the asbestos is being removed. A public relations officer for Procter and Gamble, which owns and operates the plant at which the popular “Pringles” brand is produced, reported that the asbestos was located under a metal covering upon which the old cooker was installed. “It was not in an unsafe, dangerous condition…air samples [indicated] there was no asbestos in the air,” he said. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos is said to be “friable” if it can be crumbled into dust using hand pressure alone.
The industrial deep-fat fryer was first installed about 40 years ago. As was common in industrial application in which fire was a hazard, asbestos insulation was used in order to create a flame-retardant layer between the heat source and any potential fuel source. As many as three similar fryers have been removed from the plant as Proctor and Gamble upgrade their operations. Currently, it is not known if there are any additional obsolete fryers to be removed from the Pringles Plant, located on U.S. Highway 70, the main thoroughfare of this modestly-sized West Tennessee town about halfway between Memphis and Nashville. Nonetheless, if this should be the case, management is confident that if asbestos flooring is found underneath, it will not pose any health threat to employees, as it would be the same material found underneath the metal plate supporting the fryer that was removed. In its desire to avoid future litigation that may arise from claims of employee exposure, however, it is likely that Procter and Gamble will expedite the removal any asbestos materials that are uncovered.