Asbestos In Rhode Island

Rhode Island doesn’t occupy enough land for significant natural deposits of asbestos to affect the health of nearby communities. The state’s economy, however, largely focused on industries that used the toxin, such as manufacturing and shipbuilding.

Asbestos is the term given to a naturally occurring group of fibrous minerals. For a large part of the 1900s, companies mined the toxin and manufactured it into insulation and construction parts. Workplaces and homes throughout Rhode Island used the carcinogen for decades.

If the mineral is removed or disturbed, exposed people may inhale or ingest its tiny airborne fibers. Once the fibers enter the body, they become trapped and stay there forever. Over time, the fibers may irritate nearby tissue, causing healthy cells to mutate into malignant, or cancerous cells. The most common cancer being mesothelioma, where tumors will metastasize (grow and spread) in the lining of the lungs (pleura), abdomen (peritoneum), or heart (pericardium).

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Occupational Exposure

Many occupational jobs throughout the state were responsible for exposure to the toxin. Heavy exposure commonly occurred inside schools, power and chemical plants, or manufacturing sites. Friable asbestos could be found among boilers, pipes, walls, ceilings, or furnaces. Until the 1980s, job sites used the carcinogen throughout different applications, including insulation and fireproofing materials.

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Manufacturing has been a significant industry throughout Rhode Island. Manufacturing companies throughout the state are responsible for creating a variety of products, from electrical equipment to shipbuilding. Heavy machinery located throughout manufacturing plants often contained the toxin as fireproofing precautions.

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Hundreds of students throughout Rhode Island were exposed to the toxin prior to the 1990s. The exposure mostly originated from vinyl tiles or ceilings. New schools aren’t built with the toxin, but teachers and students may still be exposed while inside older buildings. Several building materials contained spray-on asbestos on walls and ceilings. Damaged materials like drywall and flooring are potential sources of exposure.

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Textile Production

Since the age of Western colonialism in the United States, large cotton mills throughout Rhode Island were responsible for significant textile production. For a long time, the textile industry used asbestos in commercial cloth and fabrics. The toxin could also be found in various industrial equipment used in the textile factories. Most of the state’s textile factories that used the toxin shut down after the Great Depression.

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Counting all of Rhode Island’s coves, bays, and islands, the state consists of around 400 miles of coastline. Its significant proximity to water access made the state an ideal location for naval ports. Most navy bases used the toxin throughout nearly every part of each ship. The mineral was prevalent in boiler rooms, engine rooms, weapons storage areas, and sleeping quarters.

Rhode Island sites known for exposure to asbestos include:

  • Acme Tile Co. and Biltmore Textile
  • Brown Avenue School
  • Cumberland Elementary School
  • Halkyard Manufacturing Company
  • Herreshoff Boatyard
  • Management Brewery
  • Narragansett Brewery
  • Sarah Dyer Barnes School
  • Smithfield High School
  • The Rhode Island Textile Company
  • University of Rhode Island
  • Wickford Shipyard
  • Winsor Hill School

Rhode Island Shipyards

Since the early 1900s, thousands of shipyards throughout the United States have been a significant source of exposure to the carcinogen. Employees at shipyards were often unaware of how hazardous the toxin was. Until the 1970s, most ships were built with thousands of asbestos-containing components. Coastline states like Rhode Island operated several shipyards that exposed thousands of employees and nearby residents.

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Newport Naval Yard

After its establishment in the late-1800s, the Newport Navy Base was responsible for developing torpedoes, protecting ships from Confederate troops during the Civil War, and conducting experimental work on other forms of naval ordnance. The shipyard operates on over 1,000 acres of land and served as a refueling station for the U.S. Navy. The site also contains a landfill called McAllister Point Landfill, containing sludge waste, metals, and asbestos-containing materials. Soil and water on the site became contaminated after years of waste dumping. After cleanup efforts by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Navy, the site is still monitored for contaminants.

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Walsh-Kaiser Shipyard

In 1942, the Walsh-Kaiser Company was established as an emergency shipyard for building cargo vessels. Originally Rheem Manufacturing, Kaiser took over the shipyard, where it built Tacoma Class frigates to protect shipping convoys in the North Atlantic. At its peak employment, nearly 21,000 employees worked for the shipyard. The shipyard closed after World War II. For decades, employees at the site were exposed to toxic products built into each vessel.

Legal Help For Rhode Island Residents

Rhode Island residents diagnosed with an illness caused by exposure to the toxin have three years to file a personal injury claim against one or more companies liable for their exposure. Loved ones may file a wrongful death claim within three years after a victim passes away from an asbestos-related illness, according to the state’s statute of limitations. To learn more about mesothelioma lawsuits, download our free mesothelioma guide.

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