Former Penn Dixie Laborer Discuss Use of Asbestos Products at Cement Plant

In 1867, shortly after the discovery of rich beds of limestone in Howes Cave, New York, the Howes Cave Lime & Cement Company established a cement plant and limestone quarry on Industrial Drive. In 1898, the Helderberg Cement Company acquired the property, and in 1925, it merged with Security Cement & Lime Company forming the North American Cement Company. The community of Howes Cave thrived in the 1950s. By the 1960s, however, more company buyouts took place, and industry giant Penn-Dixie Cement Co., acquired the quarry and cement operations in 1964. Penn-Dixie manufactured cement in powder (raw) form. The cement was bagged and shipped throughout the United States by rail and by truck. Penn-Dixie also had a cement plant in Blasdell, New York, and a shale quarry in Hamburg, New York. These two facilities in Western New York closed in 1965 and production was consolidated at Howes Cave. Due to new environmental regulations, as well as a decreased demand for cement products, Penn-Dixie closed its Howes Cave facility in 1976. During its peak production years, the Penn-Dixie Cement facility in Howes Cave employed around 250 people and production capacity was rated at nearly 1.8 million barrels of cement per year. Flintkote Cement briefly operated the facility from the late 1970s through the early 1980s, eventually shutting down production in 1986. The 350-acre limestone quarry is currently owned by Callanan Industries, and it is operated by Cobleskill Stone Products.

In recent years, former employees of Penn-Dixie Cement have developed and died of mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. Exposure to dust and fibers emitted from asbestos-containing materials can cause mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Large overhead cranes at Penn-Dixie moved raw materials, including stone, gypsum, iron ore and clinker. Prior to the late 1970s, asbestos was incorporated into industrial crane brake linings. Repairmen periodically replaced worn asbestos-containing brake linings. In order to ensure that the new brake linings fit properly, it was often necessary to drill and grind the linings, which emitted a large amount of asbestos dust. Additionally, repairmen cleaned out the brake dust with compressed air as a part of the brake replacement process. Repairmen who were directly involved in this process are at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma, and laborers who worked in the vicinity of where the repair work was conducted are also at risk.

During the manufacture of cement, Penn Dixie laborers used kilns in order to produce clinkers from pulverized shale. The kilns produced extremely high temperatures and required a lining of bricks and asbestos-containing refractory cement. Dry asbestos-containing refractory cement was mixed with water in order to create a slurry. The bricks in the kilns were then coated with the slurry. Burner pipes in the kilns were also wrapped with asbestos rope. Laborers wore asbestos gloves for protection when working with the kilns. Many workers were not aware of the dangers of exposure to asbestos dust and fibers and carried on their work without masks or protective gear.

Asbestos-containing gaskets were also utilized at Penn-Dixie in order to ensure a tight seal between pipe flanges, valves, pumps and other equipment at the cement plant. Due to wear and tear, gaskets were frequently replaced. Asbestos-containing packing material was used in order to prevent leaks from valve stems and pump shafts. Removing and applying asbestos-containing materials caused asbestos dust to become airborne, which workers inhaled.

Inhaling dust and particles from the application of asbestos-containing materials placed workers at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. Even those who were not in direct contact with asbestos materials remain at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease. If you or a loved one worked at Penn-Dixie Cement in Howes Cave, New York, and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, please contact us regarding your legal rights.