The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee has seen a big turnaround in the last 50 years. It once was known as one of the dirtiest cities in America and is now known as a very clean, livable and pleasant place to live.
Part of the renaissance of Chattanooga in the last 30 years has been the renovation of many old buildings. However, it has turned out that many of those century old buildings were full of asbestos. And that asbestos in some of those buildings apparently caused Ray Albright to develop mesothelioma.
Albright is a well known Chattanooga legislator who was a delegate to the Tennessee General Assembly for decades. He retired in 1994.
However, his exposure to asbestos in various workplaces in Chattanooga over the years has left him struggling for breath today.
His problems from asbestos stem from a job he took in 1953 at Combustion Engineering to provide for his young family. For 20 years, he made boiler covers by cutting steel with a band saw. This process spewed deadly dust into the air. He said that the dust was so thick that he could not seen 10 feet in front of him.
Boiler Makers and Mesothelioma
People who make boilers and furnaces have to be highly trained professionals. Most of them usually focus on a specific part of boilers and furnaces, such as boiler covers, pipes, steam fitting or installations. There currently are 40,000 of these types of workers in the US. Today, asbestos is never used in this type of work, but decades ago, it was used all the time.
Asbestos is cheap, highly fire retardant and a great insulator, so its use in boilers and furnaces was a natural fit. Some of these machines had raw asbestos inside them, but others usually had elements of asbestos in their bearings, gaskets and paste backings. Most heated components were insulated with the deadly material, and especially block insulation. This meant that the furnace walls and tube banks of boilers were surrounded by an inch of asbestos. It often was mixed with magnesium carbonate and calcium silicate, and up to 15% of the slab was asbestos.
Over the years, one of the highest occupational risks for asbestos exposure was in the boiler and furnace industry. There have been many lawsuits brought by former boiler and furnace makers in the US, Canada and around the world. These workers often were in direct contact with asbestos every day. In some cases engineers had to actually crumble asbestos as they handled it. Boiler and furnace workers often would cut chunks of asbestos by hand to insulate pipes and boilers. People who fixed boilers often were dealing directly with asbestos with no protection at all.
Also keep in mind that boiler rooms are very small spaces with poor ventilation, so it is not a surprise that many of these former workers have come down with deadly asbestos related diseases.
If you used to work on boilers and furnaces up until the 1970s, it would be wise to be regularly checked for any asbestos-related illness. Remember: It can take decades for an asbestos related disease to develop, so you should be checked by a qualified medical professional annually.
That dust contained asbestos. He didn’t know it at the time and neither did other workers there. They did not even know what it was at the time. However, 40 years later, Albright was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Albright thinks that the management of the company knew that asbestos was dangerous. The US Department of Labor has fined hundreds of companies around the US for exposing their workers to asbestos without safety precautions. So, there is a real possibility that the company knew of the risks.
That is why Albright and hundreds of other former workers are suing Combustion and other companies in Tennessee. Chattanooga was once a thriving manufacturing center, so there are many other pending asbestos lawsuits in the city.
Asbestos was not only a problem on assembly lines. It also was used in the city to insulate and fireproof buildings. Most of the older buildings in the city contain asbestos, according to a local asbestos abatement expert.
He noted that buildings built from the 1920s through the 1970s had some type of asbestos in them.
When asbestos is intact inside of walls, it is not a hazard. But if the asbestos is broken up into pieces or dust, it is very dangerous. Any time a renovation of an older Chattanooga building takes place, the asbestos inside must be found and removed carefully.
Today there are very strict EPA rules about the removal of asbestos, but for many retired workers, it is too late. Albright stated recently that doctors say he has approximately six months to live.