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Asbestos in paper mills and the continuing threat of exposure

We have discussed that lingering threats of asbestos exposure that veterans of the U.S. Navy and construction workers have faced in the past several decades. However, there are other industries in which people worked that also pose a serious threat to the health of the workers and their families.

Mesothelioma, the deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, has plagued workers in the papermaking industry as well. Even after it was discovered that asbestos was a dangerous fiber and required protective clothing to be worn by those working around it, employers at paper mills continued to neglect their responsibility to keep employees safe. The fact is that paper mills commonly housed machines and materials loaded with asbestos, and paper mill workers across the country breathed it in nearly every day.

However, workers in the industry were generally kept in the dark when it came to the dangers of coming into contact with asbestos. Enormous dryer felts were used speed to dry materials in paper mills and also contained very high levels of asbestos. Although the asbestos-containing sheets were typically wet during use, it was during the replacement process when loose fibers would be released into the air. Workers breathed in these fibers and unknowingly carried the risk of exposure home to their families.

Paper mills, like many other large buildings constructed before the 1980s, also commonly used asbestos to insulate walls and coat piping throughout the property. This is why it should be no surprise that even paper mills no longer in operation generally contain high levels of asbestos.

One property owner failed to take this into consideration when he recently hired workers to remove insulation from an old paper mill. Even after finding asbestos on the grounds, he never notified the Environmental Protection Agency. He never had the building thoroughly inspected before work began, he did not warn workers that there was asbestos in the debris they were removing and he allowed for the improper disposal of the asbestos. He was recently sentenced to home confinement and three years of probation for his negligence.

The threat of exposure to asbestos can linger long after it is put into use. Millions of people can be affected for years, from the workers in the paper mill to the workers hired to demolish the mill decades later.

Source: nj.com, "Elmwood Park man gets house arrest, probation for illegally removing asbestos from Garfield factory," Dan Ivers, Jan. 11, 2013

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