In 1808, Gurdon Caswell constructed a paper mill, called the Pioneer Mill, near the Black River in Watertown, New York, on what is now called Factory Street. In 1824, George W. Knowlton and Clarke Rice acquired the mill and renamed it Knowlton & Rice. The Knowlton & Rice Company manufactured paper for books and also provided including printing and binding services. In 1848, the paper mill was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt the mill the next year. In 1854, Charles Brown and Edward Chamberlain acquired the mill, and it was renamed Brown & Chamberlain. After Brown & Chamberlain defaulted on their mortgage in 1862, the mill’s ownership returned to the Knowlton family. George W. Knowlton’s sons, John C. Knowlton and George W. Knowlton, Jr., took over management of the mill and renamed it Knowlton Brothers. During the 1870’s, Knowlton Brothers began manufacturing various types of colored paper because the water of the Black River had become too dark and dirty to manufacture white paper. Over the next century, the company developed many different types of paper used in a variety of products, including photographic paper, automotive filters, office products and military equipment. In 1987, Franklin D. Cean acquired the company from the Knowlton family, and the mill was renamed Knowlton Specialty Paper. In 2008, the mill celebrated its 200th anniversary. The mill was acquired by its management team and renamed Knowlton Technologies. Eastman Chemical purchased Knowlton Technologies in 2014. Knowlton currently employs around 100 people, and it is the oldest continuously operating paper mill in the United States.
Prior to the late 1970’s, boilers and associated steam and water pipes at Knowlton Brothers were covered with asbestos-containing pipe covering, insulating cement and block insulation. At Knowlton Brothers, steam was used during manufacturing processes, and it was also used to heat the mill. A network of pipes delivered steam to manufacturing equipment. Boilers, pumps, valves and pipes were covered in asbestos-containing insulation. Workers who performed maintenance within the steam system removed asbestos insulation in order to gain access to the equipment. When these procedures were completed, new asbestos insulation was applied. The process of removing and applying asbestos insulation to equipment in the steam system caused asbestos-containing dust to become airborne, which workers inhaled.
Workers at Knowlton Brothers also used asbestos-containing gaskets to ensure a tight seal between flanges, pumps and valves throughout steam and water lines. Asbestos-containing packing material was wrapped around pump shafts and valve stems in order to prevent fluid leaks. Gaskets and packing material were often replaced during maintenance on pumps and valves; the replacement process emitted asbestos dust, which workers inhaled.
Inhaling dust and particles from the application and removal of asbestos-containing materials placed workers at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. Even workers who were not in direct contact with asbestos-containing materials remain at risk for developing mesothelioma or lung cancer. If you or a loved one were once employed at Knowlton Brothers in Watertown, New York, and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, we urge you to contact us regarding your legal rights.