Mill workers take natural fibers in a textile mill, such as cotton and wool, and combine them with nylon and polyester to make yarn that is eventually made into various clothing products. Depending on the material and product, the yarn is then pressed, weaved, crocheted, or knitted.
The final steps in the production of textiles are dyeing and finishing. These processes are where fabrics and other materials are colored and have designs emblazoned on them. They also are treated to prevent them from fading, shrinking, wrinkling or getting soiled.
Mill workers who worked in textile mills from the early 20th century until the 1970s were at a higher risk of being exposed to asbestos, which can lead to mesothelioma.
Textile Mill Worker Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment: 50,300
- Similar Occupations: Industrial designers, precious stone and metal workers, industrial designers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
- States with the Highest Employment: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, and California
Textile Mill Workers Asbestos Exposure
In the past, producing textiles was very labor-intensive. In modern textile mills, highly specialized machinery does most of the job. Textile mills are still important today, but many of the workers once employed in the profession have been replaced by machines.
However, many textiles that were made from the 1940s until the 1970s were made with asbestos, which put many mill workers at higher risk of mesothelioma and related diseases. Workers currently employed in textile mills still could be at higher risk of asbestos exposure if they are working with older appliances, machines, and equipment.
Mill workers could be exposed to various asbestos-containing products, such as:
- Textile products when the raw material was carded, combined, spun into yarn and pressed or woven into clothing. Many textile mills were fitted with fire curtains, roofing felts, welding blankets, oven mitts, and potholders.
- Thermal insulation: Drying machines, fabric-weaving machines, and boilers had asbestos in them, which further exposed textile mill workers.
Mill workers were often exposed to asbestos decades ago because they were required to directly handle asbestos that was used to make textiles. Exposure to asbestos fibers in the air from insulation was a constant concern whether the workers handled asbestos directly or not.
Asbestos was often moved from storage and mixed into cotton. It was piled, which meant that asbestos and cotton were put in layers on the floor and fed into machines to make cloth. Asbestos fibers were disturbed during this process, especially during weaving. Billions of asbestos particles would be thrown in the air where they were inhaled by workers.
Scientific Studies on Textile Mill Workers Asbestos Exposure
According to a study in 2009 published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, mill workers were exposed to high levels of chrysotile asbestos in four plants in North Carolina. The risk of mesothelioma and asbestosis grew as workers were exposed longer.
A 1998 study analyzed worker records from a textile, friction and packing plant in the 1970s to determine workers’ cause of death. The study had 2,722 men and 5544 women. Results showed that 49 men and 14 women died from mesothelioma later in life. The study also found asbestosis and other lung diseases led to 76 male deaths and 14 female deaths.
Textile Mill Workers Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
A mill worker filed a personal injury lawsuit against Johns Manville, Uniroyal, and Garlock for allegedly exposing him to asbestos from their products, which lead to his mesothelioma. The jury ruled in favor of the man who deceased during the trial. His family was awarded $250,000 to the estate and $1.6 million for loss of consortium to his spouse.
Some manufacturers of asbestos products involved in textile mills include Hogansville Stark Mills, Duke Power, J.P. Stevens, Southern Asbestos Company, Thermoid Corp., Laclede Christy Works, Southern Textile Corp., and Regal Textile.