Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Aluminum Smelting Plant Workers

For decades, asbestos served as a counteragent to protect aluminum plants and workers from overheating and fires. Aluminum plants relied heavily on asbestos because the aluminum smelting process requires extreme levels of heat. However, asbestos is a carcinogen that  causes mesothelioma and other serious health conditions.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for Aluminum Smelting Plant Workers

  • The aluminum smelting process, which is the extraction of aluminum from its oxide, involves temperatures of more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Aluminum plants used asbestos to help prevent fires and overheating caused by the high temperatures around the plant building or machinery used by workers.
  • Asbestos is a cancer-causing material, which means there is a link between aluminum plant jobs and mesothelioma.

What Is Aluminum Smelting?

Aluminum smelting is the extraction of aluminum from its oxide, alumina. The process involves dissolving alumina at more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps create aluminum metal, which is a fundamental material used in American industrial manufacturing.

Metal is a key component of many products, mostly due to its strength and durability. These products include construction materials like window frames, doors, roofing and siding; transportation components such as car parts, aircraft parts and railway structures. Aluminum is also used in packaging, electrical wiring, consumer goods, and many other applications.

In 2014, the aluminum smelting industry produced 1.72 million metric tons of aluminum, which was worth $3.97 billion. This is a fraction of what the industry once produced as the U.S. had 23 operating aluminum plants in 1998 and even more plants in the decades before. There are just a handful now, with the country outsourcing most of its aluminum production to other countries.

Asbestos Exposure in Aluminum Smelting Plants

There were several causes of asbestos exposure in aluminum smelting plants and for workers.

Since aluminum smelting requires a combination of high temperatures, corrosive chemicals and high-voltage electricity, there’s always a risk of overheating appliances or an accidental fire in the refinery. Asbestos insulated the refinery, along with different appliances, including the pot used for smelting. Asbestos-containing refractory cement, a type of cement designed to withstand very high temperatures and heat without breaking down, was used throughout the aluminum plants.

Appliances at the plant weren’t the only thing that contained asbestos. Some workers’ protective clothing was also contaminated with the toxic material in an effort to protect them. However, this effort inadvertently put them in close contact with the carcinogen.

An article in Chemical Agents and Related Occupations listed the exposures within aluminum production plants. Asbestos was among a large number of hazardous materials, including sulfur dioxide, aluminum fluoride and carbon monoxide, which ranks aluminum plant workers among the high-risk occupations for asbestos exposure.

The Environmental Protection Agency banned ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos in March 2024. Chrysotile asbestos is reportedly the only type of the mineral still used in select industries, and the ban ensures companies will not revert back to 20th century practices in using chrysotile asbestos again.

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Mesothelioma for Aluminum Smelting Plant Workers

While asbestos protected aluminum smelting plants from structural fire damage, the mineral gave many smelting plant workers a rare cancer called mesothelioma. Exposure to asbestos is the only cause of this cancer. The reliance on the substance created a severe health risk for many American aluminum plant workers.

Disturbance to asbestos in the plant causes the mineral to splinter. This leads to loose fibers floating in the air in the aluminum plant. The result is asbestos exposure in aluminum smelting plants and danger for workers with asbestos in their protective gear or working near equipment coated in asbestos.

Mesothelioma forms in the thin linings around the lungs and abdomen. These linings are made of fluid between tissue layers. If sharp asbestos fibers infiltrate the linings, they can get stuck in the tissue layers, causing irritation and tumor formation.

Mesothelioma Lawsuits for Plant Workers

There are many cases of mesothelioma lawsuits from former plant workers. Even if they are not aluminum plant workers, the presence of asbestos in an enclosed space such as a plant or refinery posed a risk for workers in the 20th century.

A former plant worker for Duke Energy was exposed to asbestos from gaskets and valves made by Fisher Controls International and Crosby Valve LLC. The victim received nearly $3 million in a mesothelioma lawsuit.

If you worked in an aluminum production plant and have mesothelioma, we can answer your questions and help you explore your options. You probably have a viable legal case against the company that produced asbestos and sold it to aluminum plants and other companies. Email our legal expert, Carl Jewett, at cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com.

Sources & Author

  1. Occupational Exposures During Aluminum Production. Chemical Agents and Related Occupations. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304404/. Accessed: 03/17/2021.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the senior content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.