Because of Oregon’s coastline, the state was an ideal location for many shipyards. When these shipyards peaked in production, the use of asbestos-containing products was extensive. Many workers were exposed to the toxic material.
The state has logged a high rate of asbestos deaths for decades. An in-depth 2004 study about asbestos within the U.S. ranked Oregon at No. 15 for related deaths between 1979 and 2001.
Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality announced a fee increase for asbestos abatement services in January 2022. Beginning in July 2022, the state increased asbestos fees by approximately 30% to fund the state’s asbestos program. The last fee increase occurred in 2007.
Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk in Oregon
In Oregon, between 150 and 200 facilities were a source of exposure for workers. Shipyards, lumber mills and paper mills used contaminated products.
Oregon also has natural asbestos deposits. Several mines operated within the region.
Asbestos was commercially produced at three locations in Oregon. The Mount Vernon deposit in Grant County, the Raspberry Creek deposit in Jackson County, and the L.E.J. Asbestos mine in Josephine County. The Coast Asbestos Company managed the Mount Vernon deposit, where production began in 1959. The mine produced chrysotile asbestos. Workers processed as much as 5,000 pounds of recovered fiber every eight-hour shift.
In 1943, workers mined the Raspberry Creek deposit for tremolite asbestos. The work occurred on the south side of the creek, about a quarter mile to the west of the fork at Evans Creek. During that year, the mine produced 600 pounds of fiber. The L.E.J. Asbestos mine also produced a small amount of tremolite asbestos. The deposit was on the southwest side of Bolt Mountain. In 1952, the mine processed three tons of tremolite asbestos.
Mining was one of the most hazardous environments for asbestos exposure. The process of extracting the fiber from the earth and transporting it to the facility for processing was especially dangerous. Mining operations rarely used safety equipment and certainly failed to implement the safety precautions that are required today when handling the toxic mineral. The risk of developing mesothelioma cancer is a concern for former employees.
Job Sites with Known Exposure
Shipyards along Oregon’s coastline were primary sources of exposure for thousands of workers. During World War II when shipyards peaked in production, asbestos use was mandated by the U.S. Navy because of its ability to insulate and fireproof materials aboard ships. Unfortunately, anyone who worked or was stationed at these shipyards may have been exposed to varying levels of the mineral.
Shipyards that could have been a source of asbestos exposure:
- Albina Shipyard
- Cascade General Shipyard
- Northwest Marine Ironworks
- South Portland Shipyard
- Tongue Point Naval Shipyard
- Astoria Voyage Repair Station
- Dyer Shipyard
- Portland Shipyard
- Swan Island Shipyard
- Willamette Iron and Steel Yard
Metalworks facilities were also a source of exposure before regulations were implemented. Metalworking is the process of using metal to make everything from small machine parts to large building structures.
In 2004, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Manfred Schiller, a metal worker who died from mesothelioma cancer. Schiller worked at an Oregon metals factory, and the lawsuit alleged he was exposed to asbestos while handling gaskets manufactured by Garlock Sealing Technologies. The jury awarded Schiller’s wife with a nearly $1.3 million verdict.
The following metalworks facilities in Oregon exposed workers to asbestos throughout daily activities.
Martin-Marietta Aluminum Co.
In 1984, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality designated the Martin-Marietta Aluminum plant as hazardous. The facility was later declared a Superfund site and was placed on the National Priorities List. A lot of the waste from the site was sent to a landfill on the property, which the EPA said was contaminated with asbestos insulation.
Burns Air Force Station
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has asked the EPA to conduct a time-critical removal action for the former Burns Air Force Station Radar Base site. There are concerns stemming from friable asbestos-containing materials around deteriorating buildings. Reports state these materials are on the ground, and buildings made with asbestos could potentially collapse.
Chiloquin Lumber & Box Company
The Chiloquin Lumber and Box Company operated a box factory and lumber mill in Klamath County starting in 1918. While the box factory burned down in 1947, the lumber mill remained operational until 1988.
In 2005, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality performed cleanup activities that involved removing asbestos-containing materials from a boiler house and later demolishing the boiler. Before the cleanup, exposure was a concern.
Superfund Site in Oregon
The North Ridge Estates in Klamath Falls, Oregon, is a residential community. A Marine Recuperational Barracks facility operated at the site in the 1940s. Some of the buildings contained asbestos-containing materials.
Products included pipe insulation, vinyl floor tiles and roofing products. The covering of debris from demolished buildings occurred with soil rather than taking the waste to a landfill. About 20 properties tested positive for asbestos-containing materials. A removal project took place in 2003.
On March 10, 2011, the North Ridge Estates was proposed for addition to the EPA’s National Priorities List as a hazardous site. In January 2014, the EPA finalized a blueprint for the cleanup of the site, which involves the removal of two to four feet of contaminated soil.