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August 24, 2017

Asbestos in Pittsburgh Steel Mills

A city once known for producing mass quantities of iron, brass, tin, glass and of course, steel, Pittsburgh has a rich history that makes its residents proud, loyal, and dedicated.  By 1911, Pittsburgh was producing most of the nation’s steel and for decades, companies like J& L Steel, and Homestead Steel Works catapulted the small city into prosperity, especially during the war effort in World War II. New residents and immigrants were drawn to the city; seeking employment in the flourishing factories and mills, unaware that their time in these steel mills would affect their health decades later due to the exorbitant amounts of asbestos used throughout the plants.

Asbestos use may date back centuries, but its use didn’t become widespread until the mid-20th century. Known for its high tensile strength and heat resistant qualities, asbestos was a popular insulation material used throughout out the steel mills; exposing workers, foremen, and supervisors to the carcinogen. Some of the most dangerous areas for workers were blast furnaces, coke ovens, basic oxygen furnaces, and open hearth furnaces. Different jobs associated with each area also increased the risk of asbestos exposure.

Blast Furnace
Used to turn iron ore into iron, blast furnaces used blasts of hot air that could reach temperatures up to 3000° F to free molten iron from the iron ore. Jobs associated with the blast furnace included keepers, laborers, larrymen, stove tenders, pipe fitters and bricklayers.

Coke Oven
Coke is an essential ingredient when creating molten lava in a blast furnace. Coal is placed in the tall and narrow metal box lined with heat resistant brick. Gas fumes burn in the dividing walls, causing the moisture and more volatile chemicals to be baked off, resulting in almost pure carbon substance. Again extreme heat is necessary and asbestos-containing fireproofing spray was constantly used on patches of worn down bricks in the coke oven.

Basic Oxygen Furnace
The purpose of the basic oxygen furnace is to strip down impurities from iron coming from the blast furnace in order to make steel. Basic oxygen furnaces were lined with asbestos containing heat resistant products and workers were exposed through curtains, clothing, topping compounds, hot tops, sideboards and refractories.

Open Heath Furnace
An open hearth furnace is charged with steel scrap and mineral ores. The heat is produced from burning at alternate ends of the furnace, gas, oil or other fuels above the level of the charged material. Due to the high heat, asbestos products are present around open hearth furnaces, including pipe covering, gaskets, tape, hot tops and safety clothing. Bricklayers, laborers, riggers, pipefitters, electricians, and boiler operators and cleaners were some of the positions available around the open hearth furnace where one could have been exposed to asbestos.

While the city of Pittsburgh may have cleaned up its act and is no longer the “Smoky City” it was once dubbed as, the lingering effects of asbestos exposure in steel workers are still coming to light. The toxic asbestos fibers that were easily inhaled throughout the steel mills stayed dormant in workers for decades, but over the years, the tiny, needle-like fibers became further embedded in the lining of certain organs and tissue resulting in fatal illnesses such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

At Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C., we understand that asbestos manufacturers and steel mills like the ones in Pittsburgh chose to place profits above workers health by knowing about the dangers of asbestos but choosing to not warn their employees of the risk. Our job site data base has over 500 steel mills throughout the country, most in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where our clients have been exposed to asbestos. If you are suffering from an asbestos-related illness such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at GPW today for a free, no obligation consultation.

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