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Asbestos Exposure at Columbian Rope Company

The Columbian Rope Company was founded in the mid-1800s, and remained a relatively small figure in the rope and cordage industry until it was purchased by Edwin Metcalf in the early 1900s. Under his guidance, the company rose to become one of the most prominent and successful produces of rope, twine, and cord in the United States. The company grew to four production sites – two in the U.S. and two in Mexico – and was eventually purchased by the Chicago-based company Unicord International in 2002.

Edwin Metcalf chose Auburn, NY as the location for his first Columbian Rope factory. After the facility was established, Metcalf oversaw a full modernization of the company’s production techniques and equipment and began producing rope in the over 1,000,000 square foot facility. Sadly, this modernization of the facility included a great deal of parts made from asbestos. Throughout the factory, asbestos was used in equipment, materials, and in the building itself. Because asbestos readily crumbles into a dust, the workers were exposed to high levels of asbestos on a daily basis. This asbestos also settled on their clothing and skin, creating a risk of secondhand exposure for the workers’ families. Though the companies who produced and sold this asbestos equipment to the Columbian Rope Company were aware of the dangers of asbestos, they did not inform the workers at the plant or instruct them in safe handling techniques. As a result, many of these workers became afflicted with mesothelioma and other serious illnesses.

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