Asbestos was discovered in the New York plant of the aluminum-manufacturing giant, Alcoa Inc.
The discovery, made after a fire broke out in Alcoa’s Massena West plant on March 29, led investigators to find asbestos contained in the building’s ceiling.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is conducting investigations into both the fire and the asbestos.
Alcoa, its employees and OSHA are concerned about the potential asbestos exposure because asbestos is known to lead to respiratory diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. There are no known cures for asbestos-related diseases.
One of the company’s representatives confirmed the rumor that asbestos was contained within the ceiling and reiterated the company’s commitment to protecting employee safety.
“All safety precautions are being taken to ensure the health and safety of our employees,” she said.
Alcoa, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, will be conducting tests on debris samples to look for asbestos fibers that may have entered the air. After the proper areas are tested and are found to be safe, operation will resume within the approved spaces.
“While a significant portion of the casthouse still remains closed due to structural integrity issues, Alcoa is focusing on getting accessible casting complexes up and running as safely and quickly as possible.”
Asbestos is a naturally forming mineral that isn’t dangerous in its natural state, but does become a respiratory hazard when it is disturbed and its fibers become airborne.
Mesothelioma, which can take up to 50 years to manifest, becomes a threat for employees who may have been working in an asbestos-contaminated environment for years. In addition to industrial settings like aluminum plants, asbestos exposure is commonly found in the industries of mining, engineering, construction work and in the Navy.
Beyond ceiling materials, asbestos can be found throughout thousands of various commercial and household products, particularly those built prior to the 1970s, when hazards of the mineral become widely known.
Alcoa officials appear reserved to reluctant to comment on any specific safety news until the proper tests have been completed and reported.
The company has halted partial production of materials as investigations continue. Some sources believe that portions of the plant will be out of operations until after the summer, as asbestos cleanup occurs.
Despite the detriment to the company’s operations, the fire may have inadvertently helped protect the health of current and future Alcoa employees within the New York plant.