By Treven Pyles
Posted on December 14th, 2017
Asbestos was a highly used material for building ships, and workers who were helping with that process, including repairing and maintenance, risked coming in contact with the mineral. North Carolina was home to three shipyards, all of which were known to use asbestos.
The 20th century industrial North Carolina mainly focused on textile, tobacco, and wood products. The big companies which used asbestos in their operations were textile mills, power plants, chemical plants, and paper mills. As asbestos in its natural state is very flexible, it was used by many textile manufacturers as a protective material. Being heat resistant, it was incredibly useful in all sorts of clothing. After it was declared a health hazard, all mils were left with the unpleasant task of cleaning up asbestos waste and eventually abandoned the buildings in which they had been running their businesses.
Workers in various industries across North Carolina faced the dangers of asbestos on the job, which put them at risk for mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and numerous other diseases.
Shipyards were thought to be one of the most hazardous job sites when it came to asbestos exposure. Asbestos was a highly used material for building ships, and workers who were helping with that process, including repairing and maintenance, risked coming in contact with the mineral. North Carolina was home to three shipyards, all of which were known to use asbestos.
Regardless of the products they were making, many manufacturers used asbestos in their production lines. Asheville's Beacon Manufacturing, Charlotte's Frito Lay, and Raleigh's Gaylord Container Corporation are only some of the companies which worked with asbestos in their facilities.
Everyone working in still mills was facing the risk of asbestos exposure. From welders to furnace operators, all employees could have come in contact with dangerous materials throughout the processes. For instance, Nucor Corporation and J&H Power Group, Inc. are two steel mills in North Carolina which used asbestos.
The largest military facility in the world, Fort Bragg, was constructed near Fayetteville, North Carolina. At the moment, the base has over 50,000 active personnel, making it a very important development area. Such military bases, built before the 1970s, are likely to contain asbestos, which led to veterans making up about 30% of all mesothelioma diagnoses.
Natural occurring asbestos was also found in the western region of North Carolina, around the Appalachian Mountain range. Asbestos deposits are located throughout eight counties and some of them represent former mine locations, where people were heavily exposed. The following are the areas in the state where asbestos might still lurk nowadays, either in former industrial sites or as natural deposits.
In 2004, a public interest group released a study concerning deaths related to asbestos exposure in the United States, focusing on the period between 1979 and 2000. In North Carolina alone, there were 503 deaths attributed to asbestosis, whereas mesothelioma was estimated to have caused up to 917 victims. The Federal Government also began tracking mesothelioma deaths between 1999 and 2004, and a subsequent report has shown 325 recorded deaths.
Companies or individuals who break state or federal asbestos regulations during the process of maintenance or demolition are subject to fines from EPA and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The City of Charlotte paid a $2,500 fine to Mecklenburg County in December 2014 after failing to obtain the license necessary for the renovation of the Charlotte Fire Department building. A former employee of the Fire Department actually states that she was fired for reporting safety issues in the building, including the existence of asbestos. According to some officials, the authorities did not know that licenses were needed for repairs. However, the city later declared it should have asked for a permit before initiating the project.
In another case, the North Carolina Department of Labor issued a $350 fine to Gray Stone Day School in June 2008 for omitting to inform its employees about the asbestos present on the site. The building in which the school was carrying out its activities contained asbestos insulation on the steam pipes. Moreover, Gray Stone Day School also received a written citation for failing to write and display a hazard communication program explaining the potential dangers to its employees. Another citation was issued because of lack of employee training on how to handle asbestos.