Oregon and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos has long been used in the shipbuilding and maritime industries due to its properties as a fire retardant and insulation. Fires at sea are especially dangerous, and asbestos was often used throughout the construction of a ship, particularly in and around the boilers.  With a lengthy coastline in need of patrol and a storied history in fishing and shipping, it is no surprise that asbestos exposure can be a danger for some Oregon residents.

Between 1979 and 1999, there were 862 deaths reported as related to asbestos disease. Approximately half were due to mesothelioma and half were due to asbestosis. While mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer, asbestosis can frequently be controlled when it is caught early enough. However, asbestosis is also incurable. The majority of these deaths were individuals involved in the shipbuilding and repair industry.

In addition to shipbuilding and maritime affairs, Oregon has several major chemical plants within its state borders, and asbestos is quite often found in chemical factories and refineries due to its elemental properties. Two types of asbestos are frequently used in chemical plants: crocidolite (“blue” asbestos) or amosite (“brown” asbestos). Both are used because they are more resistant to chemical erosion; however, they are also of the most dangerous type of asbestos, the amphibole variety.

Amphibole asbestos is particularly dangerous due to the spear-like appearance and function of its fibers. When amphibole asbestos is inhaled, it essentially spears itself through the lung tissue, sometimes even puncturing the exterior wall of the lung. It also causes damage to DNA as it pierces lung tissue cells.

Oil refineries and power plants can also pose asbestos hazards, as fire is a constant danger at these locations and asbestos is used frequently in those industries as a fire retardant as well as for insulation. While most of the asbestos sites are primarily found in Portland, which is Oregon’s largest city and the city with the greatest presence of energy, chemical, and shipbuilding facilities, many of companies have or had plants in other parts of the state as well. These include sites in Bend, Eugene, Klamath Falls, Hood River, McMinnville, The Dalles, Salem, St. Helens, and Medford.