Risks of Asbestos Exposure in the Manufacturing of Chlorine in the U.S.

Posted on behalf of Peter T. Nicholl in Mesothelioma & Asbestos Published on March 14, 2022 and updated on March 15, 2022.

pile of asbestos fibersDespite extensive research and an overwhelming amount of data on the dangers of asbestos exposure, the U.S. has never officially banned the use of this product. While the use of asbestos has significantly declined over the last 40 years, there are still products that contain this harmful mineral.

For example, did you know that approximately one-third of chlor-alkali plants in the U.S. use closed-system chrysotile asbestos diaphragm cells to separate chlorine from sodium hydroxide?

Even though this process is highly regulated to prevent direct and environmental exposure, workers in these plants may still be at risk.

Below, our experienced Maryland mesothelioma attorneys discuss the chlor-alkali industry and the risk of asbestos exposure from chlorine. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, our attorneys may be able to help you seek compensation.

Our firm has recovered hundreds of millions on behalf of asbestos victims. We have taken on some of the largest companies to expose workers to asbestos.

Asbestos in the Chlor-Alkali Industry

Asbestos is still imported into the U.S. for some products. However, the chlor-alkali industry often uses all of it or most of it. For example, all 340 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos imported into the country in 2016 was used by chlor-alkali plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2018, 750 tons of raw asbestos were imported into the U.S. and used by the chlor-alkali industry, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Report.

The chlor-alkali industry produces three things that are essential for many common products in the U.S.:

  • Chlorine
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Hydrogen

Chlorine is by far the most important of these three products. It is used in numerous chemical processes and industrial settings. Chlorine is also used in numerous products (vinyl flooring, PVC, epoxies, vinyl upholstery, polyurethane and polycarbonate), like medical devices, approximately 93 percent of pharmaceutical products, insulation and for disinfecting swimming pools. In many situations, there is no viable substitute for chlorine.

Caustic soda, another name for sodium hydroxide is used often in the food industry in the U.S. and also in producing textiles, soaps and other cleaners. Hydrogen has a variety of uses, such as for ammonia and hydrogen peroxide.

The danger in chlorine production is the use of an asbestos diaphragm. This device creates the electric current that is passed through a brine solution.

While many chlor-alkali plants are looking for other ways to create the current, the EPA estimated that there 15 plants still using asbestos diaphragms as of 2017. Plants that use these diaphragms use between five and 25 tons of asbestos each year. In 2018, Healthy Building Network said there were 11 chlor-alkali plants using asbestos diaphragms.

Asbestos is a highly durable mineral, which helps to prevent chlorine from reacting with caustic soda, which is produced during the manufacturing process. This is why manufacturers have stuck with it for so long, despite the risks.

Risks of Asbestos Exposure for Plant Workers

Those involved in the manufacturing of chlorine may be at higher risk of asbestos exposure if their plant uses asbestos diaphragms.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, there were excessive diagnoses of pleural mesothelioma and bladder cancer in workers at a chlorine chemical plant in France. Researchers looked at the incidence of tumors in workers between 1979 and 2002.

Although France has banned asbestos because of its links to cancer, it was used for many years in the diaphragm-cell process for making chlorine. Workers may have been at risk for exposure when opening and/or emptying sacks of asbestos into mixing tanks. Those who handled empty sacks of asbestos may have also been at higher risk for exposure.

Have Questions After an Asbestos Diagnosis? Call for Legal Help

The Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl has been helping asbestos victims for more than 35 years. We have extensive knowledge of these cases and how to recover the compensation our clients need.

There are no upfront fees for our services. Your initial consultation is also free and comes with no obligation to take legal action.

There is no risk in calling us to learn more about how we may be able to assist you.

Free consultation. No upfront fees. Call 410-907-3957.