In the 1920s large industrial companies began building plants on the Kenai Peninsula after the discovery of oil in the Gulf of Alaska. Since the 1960s, Collier Chemicals–also known as The Collier Carbon and Chemical Company–has had a steady presence in Alaska. By using the natural gas reserves on the peninsula, the Collier plant produced urea and ammonia for fertilizer in a chemical plant they built in 1967, at a cost of $50 million.
Collier Carbon and Chemical Corporation Plant employed workers from the surrounding area, and many others came to Alaska from other locales, just to become employed at Collier Chemicals. The Collier employees worked long, hard hours and daily faced the hazards of using high-temperature equipment that had the potential for causing fires.
In chemical plants and other worksites built before the 1980s, including Collier Carbon and Chemical Corporation Plant, asbestos was likely used for insulation because of its heat and fire-resistant properties as well as its relatively inexpensive price. It was used in chemical plants to insulate dryers, extruders, heat exchangers, pumps, ovens, boilers, furnaces and pipes. Protective clothing such as masks, jackets, pants and aprons provided to employees also contained asbestos material.
Unfortunately asbestos had the opposite effect on safety, as it was discovered to be a highly toxic material that releases fibers into the air when handled or disturbed. These minute particles, when inhaled or ingested, burrow into the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart or other organs. The fibers can cause inflammation, infection and tumors which may turn malignant over a period of time and can result in mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.
Mesothelioma cancer has a very long latency period, and can grow without symptoms for as long as 20 to 50 years after the person is first exposed. Because of this characteristic, once this deadly cancer is diagnosed, doctors may have few to no options for treatment. Although some improvement in prognosis has been made in cases caught very early, mesothelioma is almost always fatal. All workers who were exposed to asbestos in the worksites were at risk for developing mesothelioma and related diseases.