Asbestos and Wheeling-Pitt Steel Corporation
Wheeling Steel Corporation (Wheeling) was founded June 21, 1920 by combining three separate companies: LaBelle Iron Works, Whitaker-Glessner Company, and Wheeling Steel & Iron Company. Throughout the 1920s, Wheeling expanded, acquiring new properties and modernizing their current facilities and by 1956, Wheeling stretched for 30 miles along the Ohio River from Steubenville, Ohio to Benwood, West Virginia. It was a major producer of hot and cold rolled sheets, galvanized sheets and roofing, black plate and tinplate, cut nails, continuous weld pipes, raw steel, coils, sheet metal, coke, bridge building and more.
In the 1960s, Wheeling Steel Corporation underwent a massive $200 million renovation; upgrading and modernizing all of the plant’s abilities. Despite record sales in 1966, the company found itself operating at loss of around $15 million and looked to Pittsburgh Steel Company to prevent its financial ruin.
In 1968, Wheeling Steel Corporation combined with Pittsburgh Steel Company, creating the ninth largest steelmaker in the country at that time. With the merger with Pittsburgh Steel Company came the new name of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation, though it was commonly called Wheeling-Pitt. The following is a list of steel mills and their locations after the 1968 merger.
West Virginia Locations:
Steel production began to decline in the 1970s and the recession in 1975 meant there were more supply with high labor costs and less demand in the industry. Disagreements over pay rate and pension specifics resulted in two major strikes among the steelworkers in the 1980s and 2000s. Two Chapter 11 Bankruptcies sent Wheeling-Pitt spiraling as the company completed construction of an electric arc furnace in hopes to save the company and remain profitable. Unfortunately the electric arc furnace failed and with that, ownership changed hands multiple times throughout the 2000s before RG Steel acquired the company’s holdings in 2011. RG Steel filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was liquidated.
Like with many other steel mills throughout the 20th century, the equipment used would become very hot during its use. Equipment used throughout the various locations included blast furnaces, open hearth furnaces, blooming mills, hot stripmills, cold reduction mills, coke ovens, etc. and were all lined with asbestos since asbestos is a flame retardant and was used for insulation. Commonly used items such as gaskets, pumps, aprons, mitts, and valves contained asbestos that after continuous use, would break down. The asbestos fibers would become friable, or airborne and easily inhaled. Many of the positions within the steel mill allowed for extreme levels of asbestos exposure among the workers, which can cause many illnesses and cancer including mesothelioma, lung cancer, colon and colo-rectal cancers, laryngeal cancer, and asbestosis. Some of the workers were exposed to asbestos particles more than others; depending on department and job duties. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure, as any amount of asbestos exposure can lead to an asbestos- related illness. Contact GPW today for a free case review if you believe you’ve been exposed to asbestos and are now suffering.
“International Directory of Company Histories”, Vol. 58. St. James Press, (2004).[Link]
Javersak, David T. “Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, (May 31, 2012). [Link]
“Wheeling Steel Corp. Is major producer,” The Wheeling News Register, (Janaury 15, 1956). [Link]