Harvey Aluminum (Los Angeles)

Harvey Aluminum was founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1914 by a Lithuanian immigrant who was fleeing czarist Russia. The company developed many patented tools, processes, and products involving aluminum, including the pop-top aluminum can. This ingenuity landed the company many clients, including Bendix, the Republic Steel Company, and the United States Steel Company. Unfazed by the Great Depression, Harvey Aluminum continued to grow, became incorporated in 1942 and rode out the war years supplying essential material for the war effort. Harvey Aluminum was listed as a Fortune 500 company, rising to number 421 at its peak in 1969. The original company was purchased in 1972 by Martin-Marietta.

In addition to its extensive plant property in the Los Angeles area, Harvey Aluminum began to expand its industrial reach beginning in 1963. The company constructed an aluminum rolling mill in the town of Lewisport, Kentucky, that was capable of processing an annual capacity of 110,000 tons of aluminum. As the firm continued on its mission to become a fully vertically integrated company, Harvey Aluminum constructed a plant in Washington State that was designed to convert bauxite to alumina. Requiring a source of bauxite, the company then purchased a production plant on the island of St. Croix. The synergy between these two operations allowed Harvey Aluminum to profitably create 100,000 tons of product in 1972 when the Washington facility was completed.

Now known as Columbia Aluminum, the plant at the John Day Dam in Washington has been cited by the Environmental Protection Agency as an area that has been extensively contaminated with industrial chemicals and by-products. Both land and groundwater have been found to contain unacceptable levels of carcinogens.

In addition to these pollutants, Harvey Aluminums plants, like those of many metal works factories, likely contained asbestos. This natural material is known for its resistance to heat and fire. Because the manufacture of aluminum requires intensely high temperatures, workers in the industry wore garments woven with asbestos fibers. Asbestos was also a regular ingredient in the insulation wrapped around pipes and boilers to protect against fire and heat damage. Asbestos exposure has been associated with lung disease, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the outer lining of the lungs.