The paper industry is a vital aspect of American business, even with technology as advanced as it is today. All paper is produced in paper mills, and paper mill workers are needed to produce vast amounts of paper products each year.
Paper mill workers work in paper plants where the paper is made from vegetable fibers and wood pulp. A paper mill can be fully integrated or nonintegrated. A fully integrated paper mill is a paper mill and pulp mill at the same location. The mill receives logs and wood chips, making them into wood pulp. Paper is then produced from the pulp.
Paper Mill Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment, 2010: 127,000
- Similar Occupations: Operators and tenders; woodworking machine setters; packing and filling machine operators; metal and plastic cutting.
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
- States with the Most Workers: California, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Texas
The Paper Mill Industry and Asbestos
Paper mill workers are mostly exposed to asbestos in paper mills through the maintenance of paper-making equipment. (asbestos.com). Pulping, recovery, and boiler operations require heat, so asbestos was frequently used to insulate vessels and pipes in paper mills. Maintenance workers often came in close contact with asbestos in these environments.
Maintenance personnel also were at higher risk of asbestos exposure because asbestos was in mill machinery that they had to inspect and repair.
But not only maintenance workers were exposed to asbestos in paper mills. The many materials used to construct paper mills, including industrial adhesives, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and cement contained high levels of asbestos. If any employee dealt with deteriorating materials, they could have inhaled asbestos fibers.
Once the asbestos fibers are inhaled, many of them are expelled. But some can get stuck in the lungs or abdomen and stay there for decades. The fibers can lead to inflammation and scarring that can cause mesothelioma in some workers.
Paper mill workers also can be exposed to asbestos during the paper drying process when dryer felts are used to boost production of paper at high speeds. After the pulp goes through the early chemical and mechanical processing stages, workers must place it on drying machines and take out the moisture that remains. Workers then make the paper into sheets and dry it on a screen under high heat.
During regular maintenance of these machines, asbestos dust was often released from dryer felts. The dryer felts needed to be replaced and workers were often exposed to high levels of asbestos.
A study in Sweden showed a higher risk of pleural mesothelioma in many paper mill workers. When the exposure to asbestos was analyzed in detail, 70% of the workers with cancer had been exposed at work to asbestos. Most of the workers were employed in maintenance in paper mills. (NIH.gov)
Further, a study in British Columbia found that exposure to asbestos among paper mill workers was linked to a higher chance of developing various cancers. (NIH.gov)
A study in Italy tested dust samples and machines in a small firm that made paper mill dryers. It found that asbestos fibers were in the machinery. There were three cases of pleural mesothelioma found among workers in the small facility that made drying machines for the paper mill industry. Crocidolite, amosite, and chrysotile asbestos cement were used in the factory for insulating panels.
A retried Crown Zellerbach Paper Mill worker named Henry Barabin was diagnosed with mesothelioma in the early 2000s. He won a $10.2 million judgment against Scapa Dryer Fabrics and AstenJohnson, Inc. He was diagnosed with pleural malignant epithelial mesothelioma in 2006.
He claimed that he was heavily exposed to dryer felts that contained asbestos at both companies.
Companies that are known to have used asbestos in the production of paper in paper mills include Kimberly-Clark, Champion International, and International Paper Company.