Today, the health risks from asbestos exposure are well known. Asbestos exposure is a leading cancer cause, and it’s solely responsible for the deadly form of lung cancer called mesothelioma. Workers in most American industries were routinely exposed to asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) up till the mid-1980s when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) diligently worked to have asbestos banned from American workplaces.
Most people wouldn’t consider brewing facilities to be high-risk environments for asbestos exposure. That’s far from the truth. In fact, American breweries were no different from many industrial factory settings where asbestos was everywhere. Brewing filters exposed every brewery worker to asbestos because of how they were made and handled.
Brewery Filters Contained Asbestos
Filtering is a principal step in making beer. The best beer batches are highly-filtered to remove unsightly sediments and harmful microorganisms. This leaves them clean and safe for consumption. In the early days, many different materials made up brewing filters. Most were paper-based, but they were difficult to manage.
By 1880, the American brewing facilities began using cotton filters which they called pulp cakes. They lasted longer but weren’t very strong and didn’t do a decent job of trapping microorganisms which ruined beer quality. Around the turn of the twentieth century, someone had the bright idea to blend asbestos fibers into the cotton beer filters.
Asbestos in brewery filters seemed the perfect solution. Asbestos was stable when blending with other products. It contained exactly the right size of fibers to let liquid through yet filter impurities. And asbestos was widely available, easy to work with and economical to a source.
When blended with cotton, these ACM filters were easily cleaned and reused until they were worn out. That was a drawback to using asbestos. When it’s old and dry, asbestos becomes fragile or friable. Workers handling asbestos filters released tiny particles into the air. Most breweries used hundreds of filters daily, constantly exposing their employees to a toxic environment.
Asbestos in Other Brewery Parts
Other brewery parts contained asbestos fibers besides beer filters. Americans built hundreds of large breweries during the twentieth century and asbestos use peaked. Many brewery owners and builders thought asbestos was a wonder material for constructing facilities and protecting their mechanical systems. ACMs were excellent insulators, perfect for fireproofing, didn’t conduct electricity and wouldn’t rust around the tons of water present in beer production.
Lagging was an insulation process used in breweries as well as other large factories. Lagging looked like papier-mache when sprayed onto boilers, pipes, and ducts as an insulator. It was made by mixing raw asbestos fibers into cement powder to form an insulation slurry.
Asbestos lagging coated the inside of every United States brewery. Workers mixed and applied asbestos insulation on walls, floors, and ceilings. Mechanical components contained asbestos parts, and so did the entire structure.
These were more brewery parts that contained asbestos fibers, such as:
- Gaskets and valves used in brewery piping.
- Drywall, paints, glues and sealants.
- Friction protection for moving parts.
- Fireproofing in boiler rooms and fuel storage areas.
- Clean room surfaces like asbestos floor tiles and countertops.
- Roofing shingles and building siding.
Brewery Workers and Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure was a high risk for brewery workers. Many workers exposed to asbestos in a brewery workplace experienced a ten to fifty year latency period before developing the deadly disease. It’s possible that anyone working in a brewery before the 1980s is a mesothelioma victim waiting to happen.
Brewery workers inhaled asbestos fibers released from beer filters and insulation lagging. Others who were not directly handling ACMs had secondary asbestos exposure from breathing asbestos-contaminated air that flowed throughout the brewery. That included everyone like the maintenance staff who handled products during shut downs and even management staff walking the floor.
Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief
Asbestos fibers bind to the lung lining which is called the mesothelium. Expelling these microscopic shards isn’t possible. They remain permanently trapped on the mesothelium and eventually create scar tissue that turns to cancerous tumors. Mesothelioma is the deadly result.
Compensation for Brewery Workers with Mesothelioma
Negligent employers who allowed asbestos exposure environments are held liable for risking their workers’ health. So are ACM product suppliers. Court-ordered compensation is available if you’re a brewery worker who developed mesothelioma from workplace asbestos exposure. That covers costs for medical expenses, personal damages and lost income. Families of mesothelioma victims can file claims on members’ behalf. They can also file lawsuits in wrongful death cases.