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Asbestos find at Alcoa plant sparks concerns

Keywords: Tags  Alcoa, Massena West facility, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, asbestos, fire, aluminum rod, aluminum billet casthouse

NEW YORK — An ongoing investigation into a March 29 fire at Alcoa Inc.’s Massena West aluminum plant in upstate New York led to the discovery of asbestos in the facility’s ceiling.

A spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) confirmed it was conducting two separate investigations into the fire and the asbestos, but declined to discuss specifics as both investigations are open. He added that it was too early to estimate when the inspections might be completed.

A spokeswoman for Pittsburgh-based Alcoa confirmed there is asbestos in the roofing material of the casthouse, adding that the company is doing everything it can to ensure its employees’ protection.

"All safety precautions are being taken to ensure the health and safety of our employees," she told AMM. "A significant portion of the casthouse remains closed to ensure employee safety."

Alcoa is testing debris samples, and when samples in areas with no structural concerns test negative those areas are cleared for re-entry, she added.

The March fire led the Pittsburgh producer to halt billet and cast rod production entirely (AMM, April 2). Alcoa resumed partial billet casting late last week, the spokeswoman said, but it doesn’t have a timeline for when full production will resume.

"While a significant portion of the casthouse still remains closed due to structural integrity issues, Alcoa is focusing on getting accessible casting complexes up and running as safely and quickly as possible," she said.

This latest discovery has both billet and cast-rod market participants concerned that it will take longer for Massena West to return to full production, which would make already tight markets even more so.

"(Alcoa) may be asked to strip everything down," one source said. "(Rod and billet) market tightness will get worse. Losing Massena West is a disaster."

"Now it will take much more time to bring Massena West (to full) production because Alcoa will have to remove the asbestos from the casthouse. It’s a health and safety issue," a second source said, adding that he doesn’t expect Massena West to resume full production until the fall at the earliest.

Massena West’s smelter, which has a capacity of 135,000 tonnes per year, wasn’t affected by the fire and continues to produce molten metal. Although it stopped billet and cast rod production entirely, the casthouse continued to produce P1020 sow (AMM, April 5). In addition, sources say Alcoa increased the amount of molten metal sent to Atlanta-based Novelis Inc.’s Oswego rolling mill three hours south in New York (AMM, April 9).

AMM subsequently learned that the discovery of the asbestos had been made during the initial investigation into the March 29 fire and that it had already been factored into the company’s undisclosed timeframe for a return to production. “Nothing has changed. The asbestos abatement has already been figured into all timelines for production thus far,” a spokeswoman told AMM, adding that the asbestos finding should not further delay the restart in any way. Alcoa has given a restart timeline to its customers but it has not been made public.

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