Bethlehem Steel Basic Oxygen Furnace

In 1964, Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna began to produce steel using basic oxygen furnaces (BOF). These furnaces processed metal more quickly than the open hearth furnaces and were cheaper to operate. Prior to the late 1970s, asbestos-containing refractory and insulating materials were used in the construction, maintenance and operation of basic oxygen furnaces. Asbestos was used because of its fire-resistant properties and low cost. Exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The basic oxygen furnaces at Bethlehem Steel turned raw molten materials from the blast furnaces into steel. In order to create steel, the BOF utilized oxygen to burn off impurities in the molten iron. Scrap metal, molten iron, and dolomitic lime were charged in the furnace. When pure oxygen was applied, it ignited the carbon in the steel and melted the scrap. The addition of lime caused slag to form on top of the molten steel, and the slag withdrew and absorbed impurities within the metal. It took approximately thirty to forty minutes to complete this process before the molten steel was poured (or tapped) into a ladle. The slag was then poured off.

Before the BOF was ignited, it was lined with asbestos-containing refractory bricks. Because of prolonged exposure to the high heat temperatures of molten metal, these bricks required frequent replacement. Bricklayers and other workers were exposed to asbestos-containing dust as the refractory bricks were removed and replaced. These asbestos-containing refractory bricks were also used for insulation on auxiliary units on the basic oxygen furnaces, such as sticker cages, heat shields and ladle dryers.

Pipes associated with the basic oxygen furnace were insulated with asbestos-containing pipe covering. The pipe covering was manufactured in three-foot lengths, and when it was cut to fit a smaller pipe, clouds of asbestos-containing dust were emitted. To insulate pipe elbows, asbestos-containing insulating cement was used. This cement was manufactured as a dry powder and when mixed with water, it became a paste-like substance, which was applied to the pipe. Due to normal wear and tear, these materials were removed and reapplied and, in the process, emitted dangerous levels of asbestos dust and fibers that insulation workers, maintenance personnel and steel workers inhaled.

The attorneys at Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford, LLC have gathered a vast amount of information concerning the type and variety of asbestos-containing products at Basic Oxygen Furnaces at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna. Our clients understand the importance of securing legal representation as soon as possible after a diagnosis of mesothelioma or lung cancer. If you or a loved one were once employed at Bethlehem Steel, and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, we urge you to contact us regarding your legal rights.

* Image above provided by: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Engineering Record, Reproduction Number NY,15-LACK,1-108