Wickwire Spencer Steel was located on River Road along the shore of the Niagara River in Tonawanda, New York. The steel plant opened in 1901 as Wickwire Steel Company. The million-square-foot steel plant had several buildings that housed blast furnaces, open hearth furnaces, blooming mill, billet mill and rod mills. In 1920, Wickwire Steel Company and Spencer Steel merged, creating Wickwire Spencer Steel. Wickwire Spencer Steel predominantly manufactured steel wire for chain link fences. During its peak years, Wickwire Spencer Steel employed approximately 1,400 people. Wickwire Spencer Steel struggled with bankruptcy for many years and closed in 1963. Since then, the site has been used for industrial waste disposal and remains abandoned.
Prior to the late 1970s, asbestos was commonly incorporated into materials that were exposed to high heat temperatures, including pipe covering and insulation. Dozens of asbestos-containing materials, were installed and removed at steel plants throughout the United States. 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.
Laborers at Wickwire Spencer Steel used hot tops in the process of making steel molds or ingots. A hot top is a cast iron device located on the top of a steel mold, and it traps impurities that rise out of the steel as the ingot cools and solidifies. In order to protect the hot top from damage, the interior of the hot top is lined with refractory materials. Prior to the late 1970s, asbestos was used as a refractory material because of its ability to withstand high temperatures. Hot tops used at Wickwire Spencer Steel were lined with either brick and asbestos-containing mortar or asbestos insulating boards.
Asbestos insulating boards were primarily manufactured by Ferro Engineering and Foseco Inc. The number of boards placed inside a hot top depended on the size of the mold, which ranged in size from one foot to ten feet wide. Even the act of handling an asbestos insulating board emitted asbestos fibers into the air. After each ingot was cast, the asbestos insulating boards inside the hot top turned to ash and required replacement. Laborers used an air hose to remove the asbestos-containing ash from the hot top. This action created a cloud of asbestos-containing dust, which was inhaled by laborers working on the hot top and by anyone else in the surrounding vicinity.
If you or a loved one worked at Wickwire Spencer Steel in Tonawanda, New York, you may have been exposed to asbestos and could be at risk for developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Even those who were not in direct contact with hot tops or asbestos materials remain at risk. If you or a loved one worked at Wickwire Spencer Steel and have since been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, please contact us to discuss your legal rights.