Local industry Isolatek stands alone in its field

Tom Converse, of Peru, and formerly of Huntington, releases molten iron in one of the blast furnaces at the Isolatek International plant in Huntington on Thursday, May 20.
Tom Converse, of Peru, and formerly of Huntington, releases molten iron in one of the blast furnaces at the Isolatek International plant in Huntington on Thursday, May 20. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Originally published May 27, 2010.

Blast furnaces and molten metal sound more akin to the steel mills of Gary and Western Pennsylvania, but halfway between Old U.S. 24 and Little River on Broadway Street in Huntington is an industry that mirrors the large steel mills of the past.

Isolatek International, home to about 50 employees, is the only manufacturer of life-safety spray-applied mineral fiber insulation in the United States.

But unlike heavy industry of the past that produced toxic pollutants, the Isolatek plant in Huntington produces virtually no waste. In fact, Isolatek's Huntington branch heads in the direction of clean industry more than anything else.

The Huntington facility uses slag - a byproduct of steel-making - to produce its own product.

"At Isolatek, we use someone else's waste," says Jakub Tomaszewski, plant manager at Isolatek's Huntington plant. "Seventy-five percent of [the insulation's] volume is reclaimed materials."

The slag is first delivered to the Huntington plant from steel mills, including those in northwest Indiana. Using coke as fuel, the slag is melted at over 2,500 degrees and is dropped onto a spinning wheel that fragments the slag into thin fibers as it cools, which Tomaszewski says is similar to a cotton candy machine.

The fibers are bound together using substances like cement and plaster, and are then packaged into large blocks and shipped directly to businesses known in the industry as "applicators," which are licensed by Isolatek to spread the insulation in construction projects.

The insulation is not sent to any retail store, rather, it is ordered by and sent to contractors working on large projects around the country, including hospitals, schools, arenas and airports.

"Our product can be used on any structure that has a steel frame," Tomaszewski says.

Tomaszewski says the insulation is similar to fiberglass insulation, but provides a better insulation and is not nearly as risky to be exposed to, whereas the glass in fiberglass can cause itching and breathing problems.

However, Isolatek did not originally bring its industry to Huntington. Tomaszewski says the company has located records back to 1936 documenting the plant. Isolatek bought the operation in 1982, and has continued ever since.

Isolatek has repeatedly received awards for safely and waste control. The local facility has also sponsored numerous sports teams and other community activities.

As long as steel is manufactured, Isolatek will be melting away steel production's waste, helping the environment, the local economy and contractors one shipment at a time.

Complete caption: Tom Converse, of Peru, and formerly of Huntington, releases molten iron in one of the blast furnaces at the Isolatek International plant in Huntington on Thursday, May 20. Converse is a 17-year employee of the industry, which manufactures mineral fiber insulation from waste produced by steel mills.