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Utah's sources of asbestos exposure included both naturally occurring asbestos deposits and industrial jobsites. The mineral, which appears naturally in the state's Wasatch Mountains, Avintaquin Canyon and Baer Canyon, was distributed to power plants, refineries and factories across Utah for insulation purposes. Workers who handled it at any stage between its natural state and its use as a finished product may have inhaled loose fibers, placing them at risk for mesothelioma and related diseases.
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Millard County’s Tremolite No. 1 Mine was the state’s only exclusive former asbestos producer. Workers at the mine extracted mass tremolite fibers from the basin’s quartzite. Calcite and pyrite deposits in Utah also hosted tremolite and actinolite asbestos fibers, which were often mined alongside the primary minerals.
Contaminated products were also a threat to the laborers who worked in the industrial sector. Steel and copper refineries, sugar manufacturers and canning factories are a few of many industries that relied on asbestos to insulate their equipment and protect the workers from fire. Mineral refineries, including four facilities where W.R. Grace’s contaminated vermiculite was processed, were also common sources of exposure.
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Mining, one of Utah’s most prosperous occupations, placed many workers at risk for inhaling asbestos. The mines were evenly scattered, with three mines in the southwestern corner and others throughout the state.
Miners often used rough techniques to remove the mineral from the earth, releasing the fibers into the air where they could be inhaled. However, even workers who did not come in contact with the material in the mines may have inhaled it when they operated mining equipment.
Workers at power plants and oil refineries, which were prominent across Utah, were also occupationally exposed. These facilities commonly used contaminated insulation on their machinery, and workers risked inhaling the fibers when they operated, installed or repaired equipment.
Tremolite and actinolite fibers were present in a number of mines in Utah. Short-fiber chrysotile fibers were also found alongside tremolite at the Big Pass Group mines in Beaver County.
The Tremolite No. 1 Mine was the state’s only mine dedicated specifically to asbestos, but the fibers were also found in calcite and marble mines. Contaminated mines in Utah included Highland Boy Mine, the Pack Rat Tremolite Prospect and the King David Mine.
Power plants also were significant sources of exposure. Workers at the following facilities may have inhaled asbestos during their career.
For more than 40 years, asbestos from W.R. Grace’s vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, was processed at two adjacent facilities in Salt Lake City. These plants, Vermiculite Intermountain and Intermountain Products, were located right next to Utah Power and Light. Utah Power and Light went on to purchase part of the former Vermiculite Intermountain facility, which ceased operations in 1986. Intermountain Products closed down the following year. A refinery in Richfield also processed W.R. Grace vermiculite.
Soil and gravel at the Utah Power and Light facility parcel (now owned by PacifiCorp) was found to contain the toxic mineral. In 2004 a 10-week abatement project was launched by the EPA. The station remained open, and employees continued to work through the renovations, and no public health hazard remains.
In 1993, an asbestos lawsuit reached the Utah Supreme Court when judges determined that compensation could only be awarded to plaintiffs who had developed an asbestos-related disease. The lawsuit, filed against Mountain Fuel Supply Company by five renovation workers, was originally dismissed because none of the workers developed a physical injury caused by asbestos.
Later, the Utah Supreme Court reversed the decision, holding the company responsible for the costs of future medical monitoring for the workers. However, the court maintained that, “mere exposure to an allegedly harmful substance is not enough for recovery.”
As a result of this decision, the Utah Supreme Court established criteria that plaintiffs must meet to recover the costs of medical screening. Today, claimants are required to prove:
In 2010, a Salt Lake City jury awarded a mesothelioma patient more than $5.2 million in damages, an amount the lead attorney called “the largest asbestos verdict ever in Utah or the surrounding states.” The plaintiff, a woman who was exposed to asbestos while working on home renovation projects with her father, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2007. The defendants, including Georgia Pacific, Hamilton Materials and Union Carbide, were found to have produced “defectively designed” asbestos-contaminated products.
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