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The most popular method of producing paper products involves pressing wet, fibrous pulp into flat sheets under extreme pressure. Since the 1700s, wood pulp has prevailed as the least expensive and most readily available material for making paper. Papermaking became big business in Louisiana at the beginning of the twentieth century, largely due to the state’s abundance of forested land and easy transport via river and sea. Louisiana’s forests cover 14 million acres, which is almost fifty percent of the State’s terrain. Trees are Louisiana’s No. 1 crop. By 1912, the state led the entire country in timber production.
The papermaking industry employed the toxic mineral asbestos in numerous ways right from the start. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, which can cause deadly diseases including lung cancer and the aggressive and deadly cancer mesothelioma.
The first paper mill in Louisiana was constructed in 1917, when the Great Southern Lumber Company of Bogalusa began cutting pine trees for pulpwood. International Paper Company followed, building its first paper mill in Bastrop in 1921 and following soon after with a second mill in Bastrop and another in Springhill. By the mid-1950s, paper mills had sprung up all over the state, in Shreveport, New Orleans, Hodge, West Monroe, Calcasieu, Elizabeth and elsewhere. The papermaking business was booming in the Bayou State.
By 1954, more pine trees were being consumed for pulp- and papermaking than were being used for lumber, so many in fact, that the manufacturers couldn’t plant enough saplings to offset the increasing demand. Hardwoods began to be used instead of softer pine, and the sulfate process utilizing caustic soda, which had worked fine for processing yellow pine, was switched to a semi-chemical process using a sodium-sulfite solution to better aid in breaking down the hardwood’s more substantial fibers.
These and other corrosive substances used in papermaking were originally stored in giant vats lined with asbestos, a fibrous mineral noted for its unique imperviousness to solvents, as well as heat. The pipes through which these solvents flowed were also lined with asbestos, as were the turbines, boilers and steam pipes providing heat and power to these and other industrial facilities throughout the state.
Paper mill workers, who installed, repaired, and maintained the vats, pipelines, boilers, turbines, steam lines and other machinery insulated with asbestos, were exposed to toxic asbestos fibers every time they worked with or around these vessels and equipment. Microscopic asbestos fibers were easily inhaled and ingested, where they could settle into the linings of lungs and other organs. Eventually, some workers developed diseases like asbestosis, lung and colon cancers, and even mesothelioma.
Yet linings for caustic substance containers and insulation for boilers and steam pipes were not the only ways in which asbestos was used in making paper. The gigantic drying and pressing machines, which compressed the pulp under extreme pressure at high temperature, utilized asbestos felt as an integral component of the process.
Employed widely across the papermaking industry, asbestos felt provided an ideal surface on which to compress sheets of wet wood pulp under great pressure. After debarked logs were ground into wood chips and either mechanically or chemically reduced to pulp, the slurry was spread onto a metal (eventually plastic) mesh conveyor belt, creating a solid, fibrous web. These sheets of raw pulp then passed through a series of rotating presses, which squeezed out water and air. From the 1930s through the 1970s, the giant rollers through which the pulp sheets passed were almost always lined with asbestos felt, which could withstand the intense pressure and heat without deteriorating nearly as quickly as other materials.
While some asbestos fibers were released into the air during installation of the felt onto the dryer machine rollers and during roller operation, the largest release of asbestos dust into the air occurred when workers had to replace the dryer felt once it deteriorated. The caked-on felt, which had been under immense pressure for many weeks as paper was compressed between the rollers often 24-hours a day, usually had to be chiseled and pried off in bits and pieces, releasing large amounts of deadly asbestos fibers into the air all around the paper mill workers.
Numerous paper mill companies operated in Louisiana during the decades that asbestos was widely utilized in papermaking. Below is a partial list of paper mills in Louisiana with known asbestos exposure:
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma caused by asbestos, you might be able to take legal action against the asbestos manufacturers responsible for your suffering. Please contact Baron & Budd online or call 855-280-7664 to learn more.