Asbestos Exposure in Steel Mill Workers

Many different professionals work in steel mills. Steel mill workers include skilled tradespeople, manufacturers, maintenance workers, and janitorial staff. Anyone involved in the process of manufacturing steel products during the time when asbestos was used is at a high risk for developing an asbestos-related health problem.

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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:

  • Durability
  • 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.

Did You Know?

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.

Steel Mill Workers Roles and Responsibilities

Steel mills are complex manufacturing facilities and require many people filling many different roles in order to operate.

Some of the positions most likely to expose workers to asbestos include:

  • Furnace operator
  • Inspector
  • Machine setter
  • Operator
  • Pourer/caster
  • Steel lather/millwright
  • Tender
  • Welder

Asbestos-related diseases were initially discovered in people working in asbestos mines, mills, and factories. But by the middle of the 20th century, asbestos-related diseases were being found in end-product users, such as shipyard workers, insulators, and steel workers.

Steel Mill Workers and Mesothelioma

Microscopic asbestos fibers may be inhaled or ingested by those working around asbestos in steel mills. Once inside the respiratory or digestive system, asbestos fibers embed themselves into organ tissues covering the lungs, abdomen, and heart and are impossible to remove.

Did You Know?

Over time, lodged asbestos fibers can cause inflammation and irritation to the surrounding healthy tissues, mutating them into cancerous mesothelioma cells. By nature mesothelioma cells grow and divide out of control, clumping to form masses of cancerous tissues called tumors.

It can take between 20 and 50 years for mesothelioma to develop. By the time steel workers may detect symptoms, the disease has typically advanced into the late stages where it becomes difficult to treat. Steel mill workers with mesothelioma require a specialized treatment plan that may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Compensation for Steel Mill Workers

Many of the companies that manufactured asbestos products have been found liable for causing health problems for the people who used their products. Steel mill workers with mesothelioma may be eligible for legal compensation.

If you’ve received a mesothelioma diagnosis and you have a history of working in a steel mill, contact our Justice Support Team today. Our team can connect you with important legal and medical resources. Get a free case review today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Cancer Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

View 3 Sources
  1. Sage Journals Toxicology and Industrial Health, “Asbestos-Related Disease in Employees of a Steel Mill and a Glass Bottle Manufacturing Plant” retrieved from Accessed on July 18, 2018.
  2. US National Library of Medicine Nation Institutes of Health, “Pulmonary Concentration of Asbestos Fibers in Steel Workers with Pleural Mesothelioma” Retrieved from Accessed on July 18, 2018.
  3. Wolters Kluwer Epidemiology, “Evaluation of Bricklayer to Airborne Asbestos in Steel Mills (1972-1981)” Retrieved from Accessed on July 18, 2018.
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