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Great Lakes Steel, a/k/a National Steel Division

Ecorse, Wayne County, Michigan

Great Lakes Steel, a/k/a National Steel Division

Located in Ecorse, MI, and River Rouge, situated along the Detroit River, the Great Lakes Steel Plant is a source of asbestos exposure, Mesothelioma, and other asbestos related cancers. Michigan’s largest producer of steel, Great Lakes Steel was a division of National Steel Corporation, the nation’s third-largest steel company, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1929, the area now occupied by the present main plant operations in Ecorse, Michigan was a swamp. But in just 16 months a complete steelmaking plant was erected, and the first heat of steel was tapped in August of 1930. Feeding the original open-hearth shop with the necessary molten iron were the blast furnaces owned by the Hanna Furnace Corporation which were located on an island two miles to the north. It was the merger of Great Lakes Steel, portions of the M.A. Hanna Company and Weirton Steel in Weirton, West Virginia, which created National Steel. The primary reason for locating Great Lakes Steel in the area south of Detroit was to serve The Motor City’s growing automobile industry. Since its existence, Great Lakes Steel has become the leading supplier of flat rolled steel for automobiles and trucks. Its products are used in many other important markets such as appliances and earth-moving equipment.

Three materials taken from the earth – iron ore, coal, and limestone – arrive at the blast furnace operations located on Zug Island along the Detroit River. They are combined to produce molten iron for the steelmaking furnaces at the main plant in Ecorse.  The coal is converted into nearly 5,000 tons of coke by baking in the three coke oven batteries. The coke is used as fuel in the four blast furnaces which are charged with more than 12,000 tons of iron ore pellets, scrap and limestone to produce over 11,000 tons of molten iron per day for the steelmaking furnaces in Ecorse.

A sintering plant serves a dual role – by recycling iron-bearing particles from the blast furnace air cleaning equipment along with other steel mill waste to produce a high iron content feed for the blast furnaces. About 5,000 tons of this waste material, which otherwise would have to go into landfill areas, is recycled in the sintering plant daily. The blast furnace operations are linked to the steel mill by a network of railways on which locomotives pull ladle cars loaded with up to 200 tons of molten iron. Great Lakes Steel’s basic oxygen furnaces then refine the molten iron, along with steel scrap into high-quality steel. Built in 1962, the No. 1 BOP Shop has two 300-ton capacity furnaces which can turn out a heat of steel in 40 minutes. The No.2 shop, which began operations in 1970, has two 200-ton furnaces and matches the production time of the first shop.  The Company’s original Open-Hearth furnaces required up to 15 hours to produce a heat of steel. In the basic oxygen process – BOP – approximately 70 percent molten iron and 30 percent steel scrap makes up the charge into the vessel. Both shops are served by electrostatic precipitators which remove the dust generated in the refining process before the gasses are expelled into the atmosphere.

 Scrap steel purchased from many sources, along with scrap generated in steelmaking and rolling, was the raw material charged into the Company’s two electric furnaces. Electricity passing from one electrode, through the scrap charge, and into the net electrode creates the heat which melts the scrap. The two furnaces, which operated simultaneously each, had identical capacities to produce 125 tons of steel in approximately three to four hours. Steel which was not processed through the continuous casting operations was teamed into ingot molds and allowed to solidify. The molds were then removed, and the ingots were placed in soaking pits to be heated uniformly to approximately 2400 degrees F. The heated ingots were then rolled forward and backward a number of times through a one-stand slabbing mill until they are reduced in thickness to a longer, thinner form called a slab. The Electric Furnaces and Ingot molds are no longer used.

Great Lakes Steel’s Continuous Caster produced the widest steel slabs ever continuously cast in the United States, 104 inches wide by 9 ½ inches thick, emerge red hot from giant eight story high caster at Great Lakes Steel. The 80- inch mill, a high-speed hot strip rolling mill utilizing computer control, was the first of a generation of new hot mills when it went into operation in 1961. Today it is still a leader among the steel industry’s hot mills. Heated slabs are pushed onto a rolling table and pass through a series of five roughing and seven finishing mill stands and in less than four minutes their half-mile journey through the mill, become hot rolled steel coils.

Four pickling lines pass hot rolled steel coils through a bath of hydrochloric acid to remove iron oxide from the surface. The coils are then further reduced in thickness on one of the tandem cold mills. Cold rolling hardens the steel so that it must then be annealed. This is a heat-treating process to restore its formability. The exact temper of the steel, as well as the flatness and surface quality required by the customer, is achieved by rolling on one of three temper mills, or “skin mills”. Steel finished in this manner usually appears in exposed steel parts such as the outer panels of cars and appliances. Should the customer desire the steel in cut lengths, or narrow width coils shear lines and slitting lines are utilized.

Steelmaking equipment, massive and complex, requires the skills of many people such as millwrights, pipefitters, carpenters, welders and various craftsmen who perform necessary maintenance and repair work. Others behind the steelmaking scenes who contribute greatly to steel production are those employed in the Service Division and Energy and Utilities Division.

Exposures to the asbestos products at the mill can cause Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer, Asbestosis, and other cancers 10 – 40 years later.   Even if you smoked you may be entitled to compensation if you are suffering an asbestos related disease.

There are numerous departments and occupations that experienced heavy asbestos exposure at Great Lakes Steel Main Plant such as the BOP, Mold and Hot Top Yards, Open-Hearth furnaces, Box Anneal furnaces, Soaking Pits, Boilerhouse, Pickler, Hot Strip and Slab Furnaces.

Box Anneal Furnaces: reheat the coils before rolling. The annealing process tempers the steel to meet the specifications of the purchaser.

Job Classifications:

  • Annealer – operates annealing furnaces.
  • Crane Hooker – hooks crane to top of furnaces.
  • Crane Operator – operates crane to lift furnace covers.
  • Pipefitter – maintains pipes.
  • Bricklayer – rebuilds furnaces.
  • Laborer – clean up work.

Boiler House: There were five boilers in operation at the GLS Boilerhouse. A Union Iron Works boiler was built in 1961. Four boilers were built in 1969 – manufactured by Wagner Bird A.G. (2 boilers); Combustion Engineering and Babcock and Wilcox. Boilerhouse employees had significant asbestos exposure to asbestos covered streamlines, boilers, and turbines.

Job Descriptions:

  • Boiler operator: Stationed in boilerhouse while repair work was done. Inspects and operates boilers.
  • Water Tender: works under the direction of boiler operator, monitors the high-pressure steam equipment.
  • Boiler Cleaner: Assists in cleaning inside and outside of steam boilers and auxiliary equipment.
  • Bricklayers: Responsible for boiler repair. Complete boiler overhaul or installation was done by outside contractors.
  • Laborers: Helped in clean-up work after tradesmen.
  • Pipefitters – maintains steamlines and worked with turbine repairmen on big jobs.
  • Turbine Repairmen: Maintained boilers and turbines- covered turbines, pumps, drums and feed pump heads. Also removed boiler jackets and helped pipefitters tear-out and recover lines.

Open Hearth Furnaces: There were 17 total open-hearth furnaces. There were 12 furnaces at the No. 1 open hearth. There were 5 furnaces at No. 2 open hearth. When the open-hearth furnaces were in operation (1929- 1960’s) there were 12 waste heat boilers at No. 1 open hearth and 5 waste heat boilers at No. 2 open hearth. There were 2 standby boilers at No 1 open hearth and three standby boilers at the No 2 open hearth. It took up to 15 hours for 1 heat of steel an open-hearth furnace.

Job Classifications: 

  • Bricklayer: it would take 17- 18 Bricklayers one week to rebuild an open-hearth furnace. The bricklayers did both rebuild and patch repair work on the furnaces.
  • Laborers: Responsible for furnace tear-out. Used a jackhammer to tear out brick, mortar and block insulation.
  • Rigger: Responsible for furnace tear-out. They cut through the metal furnace shell to begin the tear-out.
  • Pipefitter: Repaired pipelines associated with furnaces and boilers.
  • Electrician: Repair of cables and wires. Bystander exposure to furnace rebuilds work.
  • Heater: Operated open heath furnace. Sprayed the bulkheads of furnaces with fireproofing spray.
  • Heater Helper: Assists heater in tapping furnace and furnace operation and maintenance.

Soaking Pits: There were two areas of soaking pits at the main plant – No 1 and No 2 soaking pits. They are deep pits that are rectangular in shape. At the soaking pits the steel ingots reheated by gas to 2400 degrees. When the steel leaves the soaking pits it is rolled, coiled or finished

Job Classifications:

  • Bricklayer: rebuilt work on soaking pits walls and floor.
  • Laborer: Tear-out work on soaking pits.
  • Pipefitter: Repair of gas piping.
  • Nozzleman: Spray fireproofing of soaking pits.
  • Crane Operator: Lifts steel slabs in and out of the soaking pits.

Slab Furnaces: There are 5 slab furnaces at the 80” Mill. The mill began operation in 1961. Four of the furnaces were built between 1961-1963. No 5-slab heater was built in 1969 or 1970. The slab furnaces reheat the slabs in order to go through the roughing and finishing mills.

Job Classifications:

  • Pipefitter: Maintains pipes in furnace area.
  • Bricklayer: Repairs furnace lining and patch repair work.
  • Laborer: tear out of furnace lining for rebuild work.
  • Heater: operates slab furnaces.
  • Heater helper: assists heater in operation and maintenance of furnaces.

Other areas of exposure at the Great Lakes Steel Ecorse Plant:

BOP Furnaces: The BOP or Basic Oxygen Process Furnaces replaced the open-hearth furnaces. A tar brick was used in the BOP that did not require mortar. The No 1 BOP was built in 1962. The No 2 BOP was built in 1970. It takes 40 minutes for one heat of steel at the 300 ton No 1 BOP or the 200 ton No 2 BOP.

Electric furnaces: Scrap steel is melted at the electric furnaces. Each furnace takes three to four hours for 125 tons of steel. Brick, castable, ramming materials and mortar were used at the electric furnaces. Many of the known refractory materials were asbestos containing.

Ladels: The ladels were relined in a ladel reline area, next to the open hearth furnaces. Castable, brick and mortar were used in the relines. Some of the castable and possibly some of the mortar may have been asbestos containing.

Hot Metal Cars: the hot metal cars or bottle cars transfer the molten iron to the open hearths and in later years to the BOP furnaces. Brick, mortar, and ramming material was used to line them.

Pickler: The steel is dipped in vats or tanks of acid at the pickler. Brick and mortar were used on the tanks. The acid lines are high temperature lines that are made from and covered with asbestos. The acid changes the pipes and they had to be replaced.

Bar Mill Furnaces: There is one furnace at the 10” Bar Mill and one furnace at the 14” Bar Mill furnace. These are reheat furnaces – brick and mortar were used.

No 1 and No 2 Hot Strip: There were two slab furnaces at No1 and three slab furnaces at No 2 Hot Strip. The No 1 Hot Strip/34” mill was built in the 1930’s. During WWII they needed wider steel for the war and the No 2 Hot Strip or 96” mill was built. The 80” mill replaced the No 1 Hot Strip in 1961.

Mold Yards: There are 3 mold yards at the main mill. The steel is poured into ingot molds at the mold yards. The molds had and asbestos insert. There also were two different types of hot tops were board/sheets or brick lined covers.

Other occupations exposed to asbestos:

  • Maintenance Foreman and Supervisors:  They schedule and supervise the maintenance and repair of the buildings and equipment.
  • First Line Supervisors/Managers Production and Operating Workers: They directly supervise and coordinate production and operations employees (Precision Workers, Inspectors, Machine Setters and Operators, Assemblers, Fabricators, and Plant and System Operators.
  • Furnace and Vessel Operators:  They operate the various furnaces and BOP vessels that make the iron or steel.
  • Maintenance: Construction and Millwrights, Bricklayers, Electricians, Insulators, Machinists, Oilers, Painters, Pipefitters, Welders and other trades. They construct, maintain and repair the buildings and equipment throughout the plant.
  • Powerhouse: Boiler and Turbine Operators, Stationary Steam Engineers, and Maintenance Men. They operate and monitor the boilers, turbines, condensors, compressors, pumps and valves.
  • Heavy/Mobile Equipment Repair: Industrial Mechanics maintained and repaired Kress Carriers, payloaders, fork trucks, dump trucks, tow motors, hoists and other equipment
  • Material Handling: Hi-Lo Operators, Crane Operators, Equipment Operators, Laborers, Sludge Operators and Tractor Operators. They handle and move the raw materials, steel and equipment for the mill.
  • Transportation: Railroad Laborers, Switchman and Engineers operated the locomotives for transporting molten steel, Ingot molds, and other materials.
  • Receiving and Shipping: They receive and ship materials for the various plants and departments.

Asbestos exposures at Great Lakes Steel came from a number of sources including asbestos containing blankets, brick insulation, brakes, clothing, electrical products, fireproofing, gaskets, granite, hot tops, furnace cement, insulating cement, pipecovering, refractory insulation and sideboards.

In addition to the Ecorse Plant, significant exposure to asbestos also occurred at the Great Lakes Steel 80” Mill, Michigan Steel, and Zug Island Plant.

If you or a loved one have questions regarding asbestos exposure at Great Lakes Steel or anywhere in Ecorse, Michigan, we have Michigan based and licensed lawyers with over 50 combined years of experience that would be able to assist you. John Kelsey and John Pomerville are Asbestos & Mesothelioma Attorneys with Goldberg Persky & White. They are very knowledgeable in regards to asbestos exposure at Great Lakes Steel Division, Mesothelioma and the other asbestos diseases caused by asbestos exposure. They have represented hundreds of individuals with mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis from their occupational exposures at Great Lakes Steel in lawsuits in Wayne County Michigan Circuit Court in the past 20 years. If you have any questions concerning your exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma at Great Lakes Steel Division in Ecorse, MI call one of our other Michigan Lawyers, John Kelsey or John Pomerville. Our Michigan-based Mesothelioma lawyers can help you get the compensation you are entitled to if you were exposed to asbestos in Ecorse, MI.

If you have been diagnosed with Mesothelioma you should immediately speak with an experienced Michigan Mesothelioma Lawyer to preserve your legal rights as this is a time sensitive matter and knowing the facts will help you make the best medical and legal decisions possible and help you recover financial compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering .

We have represented people injured by exposure to asbestos whose work histories include Great Lakes Steel Division in Ecorse, Michigan. Our extensive database of jobsites and asbestos product identification built over 30 years of specializing in asbestos lawsuits allows us to effectively and efficiently represent those injured by asbestos in the workplace.

Why does it matter that Great Lakes Steel Division is in our jobsites database?

In order to successfully pursue an asbestos claim, your lawyer needs to be familiar with the jobsites you worked at, including

  • the companies that employed you,
  • the products they purchased and used, and
  • the companies who produced those products,
  • depositions, testimony of other Great Lakes Steel asbestos disease victims
  • documentation from the Plant and Defendants

After more than 30 years pioneering asbestos litigation, we have a vast knowledgebase covering things such as company diagrams, invoices from asbestos product manufacturers, revealing company memos demonstrating their knowledge of the risks, asbestos product packaging through the years, depositions from leading experts, and medical and scientific literature dating from the late 1800s to the current day.

Great Lakes Steel Division is one of tens of thousands of jobsites in our database.

Being familiar with many different industries, manufacturers, and products means we can efficiently and effectively identify all the asbestos containing products that contributed to your injury. It’s a breadth of knowledge gained from years of experience representing people injured by asbestos and their families.

Asbestos Exposure Injuries

Asbestos exposure can cause a variety of non-cancerous and cancerous injuries such as:

  • mesothelioma
  • lung cancer
  • colon and colo-rectal cancers
  • throat cancer
  • laryngeal cancer
  • esophageal cancer
  • asbestosis

We have successfully represented hundreds of Michigan Steelworker local 1299 members and retirees in lawsuits against the responsible asbestos product manufacturers. Millions of dollars in compensation has been recovered for these asbestos disease victims. We have the resources and experience to take on the Asbestos Industry and demand fair compensation for you.

Did you work at Great Lakes Steel Division in Ecorse, Michigan? Have you been injured by asbestos? Contact us today for a FREE, no obligation consultation: 1-800-799-2234

Asbestos in Ecorse, Michigan

Ecorse sits along the Detroit River and has a population of just over 9,500. It is one of the oldest municipalities in Wayne, County; having first become a Township in 1827.The first name for the community was the Village of Grand Port as established by French residents in 1836. The Village of Ecorse was established in 1902 and was the second largest village in the United States, at that time. Ecorse became a City in 1942.

The ideal location for shipping along the Detroit River combined with significant investment in rail and road infrastructure, the City of Ecorse urbanized and became a regional industrial center. The first steel plant, Michigan Steel Mill, was built in 1923. Great Lakes Steel Mill followed in 1929. Industrial development and resulting residential and commercial development grew steadily from 1929 and reached a high point during WWII.

 Ecorse, today, has become a first-ring suburban community closely connected to the City of Detroit and other “Downriver” communities through West Jefferson Avenue. The development of the Southfield Freeway (M-39) and Outer Drive as major regional connectors to the U.S. Interstate System (I-75 and I-94) has provided commuter connections for residents to other areas in the Southeast Michigan region. The development and growth of these major transportation routes and the continuing suburbanization of the region has had a direct and continuing impact on all land uses in the City Ecorse was well on its way to becoming a diversified industrial center having attracted such firms as Dana Corporation, Kahles Foundry, Nicholson Terminal and Dock, numerous other industrial facilities like Edward C. Levy Company, and Young Spring and Wireman.

Ecorse has a history of manufacturing in fields known for using asbestos-containing materials, placing workers at a high-risk category for asbestos exposure. Malignant mesothelioma may result when workers and loved ones have been exposed to asbestos. If you have been exposed to asbestos in Ecorse, you may benefit by seeking legal counsel from our Michigan based asbestos lawyers. Our lawyers John Kelsey and John Pomerville are very familiar with the Ecorse jobsites and the asbestos products workers were exposed to at these sites.

If you have been diagnosed with Mesothelioma you should immediately speak with an experienced Michigan based Lawyer to preserve your legal rights as this is a time sensitive matter and knowing the facts will help you make the best medical and legal decisions possible and help you recover financial compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering .