The Union Carbide Company was founded in Niagara Falls in 1898. At the time of its inception, Union Carbide was not only one of Niagara Falls’ first industrial firms, but it was also the nation’s largest producer of carbide products. Union Carbide occupied three major facilities in Western New York and employed roughly 5,000 people. In recent years, former employees of Union Carbide’s Niagara Falls National Plant, Niagara Falls Republic Plant and the Tonawanda Linde Plant have developed and died of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Today, these facilities are now owned by Praxair.
Union Carbide workers were exposed to asbestos dust from working with and in the vicinity of laborers who repaired and maintained various types of machinery, water and steam lines, pipes and other materials at the plant. Asbestos-containing materials, including block insulation, flanges, packing, pumps, gaskets, pipe insulation and valves covered or was enclosed in the equipment used to produce chemicals and gases, as well as metal alloy materials.
Union Carbide manufactured a variety of products throughout the twentieth century, including ethylene, alcohol and antifreeze. Union Carbide’s Western New York plants, however, were primarily known for producing various metals and chemical gasses. In the early 1900s, Union Carbide’s Niagara Falls facilities became well known manufacturers of steel and iron. During the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Union Carbide’s Tonawanda Linde plant became equally well known for its production of hydrogen and atmospheric gasses, and it also manufactured the equipment used to properly transport these materials.
At Union Carbide’s Niagara Falls locations, large electric furnaces transformed calcium carbide and ferro-alloys into molten metal. At times, these furnaces reached an internal temperature of 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Insulating cement, which contained asbestos, lined the furnaces used to melt various metals. Workers mixed the asbestos-containing cement with water and then applied it to the surface of the furnaces. The mixing process created large clouds of asbestos-containing dust that floated through the facility.
Likewise, Union Carbide’s Linde plant in Tonawanda manufactured chemical gases that demanded the use of mixing kettles and pipes capable of keeping temperatures well below the freezing point. In order to maintain low temperatures, the kettles and pipes were insulated with asbestos block insulation and pipe covering.
Union Carbide’s plants, especially the Tonawanda Linde facility, depended on the use of asbestos for purposes other than chemical and metal production. Asbestos floor and ceiling tiles were used throughout Linde’s eighteen buildings. Periodically, asbestos-containing floor tiles were removed and replaced due to constant wear and tear from the chemicals produced at this facility. Large hooks were used to rip the tiles and mastic off the floor, which then released asbestos dust and fibers into the air.
Asbestos-containing insulation and materials were also used in the steam lines, waterlines, circulating lines, process lines, superheated ducts, smokestacks, breechings, hot ovens and exhaust ducts located throughout Linde’s plant. The powerhouse located at the Linde plant contained four boilers and an intricate system of steam pipes and pumps, all of which were covered with asbestos insulation. These materials also required frequent removal and re-application.
Laborers who worked at Union Carbide’s three Western New York plants were constantly exposed to asbestos dust from working with and in the vicinity of men who used saws and hooks to remove the asbestos insulation on pipes, furnaces, tanks, ducts, kettles, heat treat equipment and boilers. Much like the life span of the thermal asbestos insulation, the life span of the asbestos gaskets and packing inside pipes and pumps at Union Carbide was short. On a daily basis, the gaskets within pipe flanges and packing within the various pump houses at Union Carbide were replaced. Workers responsible for this type of maintenance created asbestos-containing dust by scraping and prying at asbestos materials during the removal process. Construction, repair and maintenance work that took place at Union Carbide’s plants was often performed by both Union Carbide employees and by outside contractors.
The attorneys at Lipsitz & Ponterio, LLC have gathered a vast amount of information regarding the type of materials used and produced at various Union Carbide facilities. Our clients understand the importance of securing legal representation as soon as possible after a diagnosis of mesothelioma or other chemical exposure-related conditions. If you or a loved one were once employed at Union Carbide and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another form of cancer, we urge you to contact us regarding your legal rights.