Steel Mill Workers and Asbestos Exposure
Before the dangers of asbestos were known, the material was embraced for the superior properties it possesses, such as:
- Fireproofing ability
- Insulating properties
- Light weight
- Low cost
As a result, it was incorporated into many aspects of 20th-century manufacturing. Even personal protective gear (now used to protect people from asbestos) contained asbestos fibers.
Steel mills are hazardous environments. Therefore, it makes sense that areas of the mill were “improved” with asbestos to make them safer. However, all the well-intentioned insulation and fireproofing have caused serious health problems for the very people it was meant to protect.
According to the Asbestos Resource Center, steel and ironworkers are among the highest risk of asbestos exposure. Within the steel mill industry, maintenance workers have been found to have the highest rates of asbestos-related disease.
While asbestos was phased out of manufacturing by the 1980s, most of the remaining steel mills in the U.S. were built before the ban took effect. Despite efforts to remove and contain asbestos, hundreds of thousands of asbestos-containing buildings remain.
This is perhaps why maintenance workers are reported to have the highest rates of asbestos-related disease — they routinely work on the pre-1970s infrastructure of the steel mills and encounter asbestos fibers on a daily basis.