Furnace Workers and Mesothelioma

How and Why Furnace Workers Get Mesothelioma

You’re a furnace worker. You cool, unload, pack and load gigantic hearths for a living.

In the course of that work, you encounter asbestos.

That means you are at risk of developing mesothelioma. Your risk of getting mesothelioma because of your job is high.

Asbestos shows up in many furnace-related parts and materials. Among them are:

  • Electrode insulation

  • Brick side blocks

  • Mortar and other adhesives

  • Protective garments

Happily, asbestos is used far less today than before the 1990s. In those days, asbestos was incorporated into practically everything related to blast furnaces and smelters.Asbestos is a mineral that has the ability to block heat. Asbestos also is easy to find in the earth and costs very little to process.Owing to how well it works, its abundance and economy, makers and operators of blast furnaces and smelters found it a perfect solution to their heat-containment needs.

But makers and operators also understood that asbestos was a health hazard. Beginning in the late 1970s, the government began forcing industry to find substitutes for asbestos.

At around the same time, the public started to become broadly aware of the dangers of asbestos. That led to lawsuits against asbestos companies — lawsuits that asbestos-exposure victims often won.

So today, you’re a lot less likely to run into asbestos when you pack firing electrodes with insulating materials or perform any of the other major tasks unique to your job.

Mesothelioma Sneaks Up on You

However, you can still run into asbestos if you work with materials that have been installed since before the 1990s. Asbestos added to a material is relatively harmless so long as it stays inside that material.

If it escapes, it enters the air and stays there for a long time. Asbestos escapes when the material containing it is cut, hammered, filed, grinded, drilled or otherwise modified.

In the case of furnaces, asbestos gets into the air when you go inside one to shovel it out and make it ready to be refired. The debris you shovel out is thick with asbestos. It comes from what’s left of the electrode insulation and the crumbling bricks and mortar.

Once asbestos is in the air, it’s possible that you will either inhale or swallow some of it. If you inhale it, the asbestos travels down to the depths of your lungs. It parks there and doesn’t ever exit. Nor does it disintegrate.

If you swallow it, the same thing happens — except instead of settling in your lungs, it goes into your intestines.

No one is yet sure how this next part happens, but gradually the trapped asbestos damages cells that protect your lungs or abdomen.

It can take decades for this damage to become critical. When it does, the result is the onset of mesothelioma.

Union Anger at Asbestos

Furnace workers who belong to a union have chosen to collectivize under the banner of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB).

Seventy-thousand strong, the IBB has a special branch for its members who are furnace workers — the Stove, Furnace, Energy and Allied Appliance Workers Division. SFEAW started in 1994 when the Stove, Furnace, and Allied Appliance Workers International Union of North America merged with the IBB. The division itself represents nearly 7,500 members.

Through the IBB, the SFEAW offers information that you may find invaluable when it comes to understanding the dangers of asbestos and what you can do to make yourself safer on the job.

The SFEAW-IBB is like many trade unions in that it worries about mesothelioma. If they could, all unions would wave a magic wand and ensure that no member ever again develops mesothelioma.

But they cannot, for there are no such magic wands. Instead, it’s up to individual union members like you to be alert for the first signs of the onset of mesothelioma.

If you exhibit symptoms, lose no time in contacting a mesothelioma doctor or a mesothelioma treatment center. The sooner you act, the better your chances of survival.