Chemical Technicians and Asbestos Exposure
For decades, thousands of chemical technician employees suffered asbestos exposure.
“Chemical technician” is a general term for workers employed in chemical processing plants. These plants are a huge employer in the industrial sector, with approximately 13,500 American facilities producing a wide range of chemical products.
Chemical production is a primary contributor to the U.S. economy with revenues exceeding a half-trillion dollars.
The entire chemical industry used vast asbestos quantities from the 1920s when asbestos became popular for its insulation and fire resistance properties.
Asbestos use continued in the chemical industry until the late 1980s, when the extreme health dangers from asbestos exposure became well-known.
All five U.S. Labor Bureau chemical worker classifications were exposed to asbestos during the 20th century.
How Chemical Technicians Were Exposed to Asbestos
Chemical production plants require high heat to change elements and compounds from one form to another.
To control heat dangers, chemical plants used large amounts of asbestos for insulating high-temperature areas and protecting them from causing a fire.
Asbestos qualities seemed the perfect solution as asbestos has low heat transfer properties and won’t burn under any conditions.
These qualities also made asbestos appear the right material for chemical technicians’ personal protective equipment. Workers wore asbestos coveralls, aprons, gloves and facemasks to protect themselves from heat, fire, and chemical burns.
Many workers were unaware of the dangers of asbestos. They were constantly exposed to asbestos with their production materials and protective clothing.
All chemical production plants use incinerators. These high heat containers notoriously used asbestos for insulation wrap, gaskets, and door sealants.
A continual heat and dry cycle turned asbestos protection into friable particles or dusty powders that were constantly airborne. Chemical technicians regularly inhaled and ingested asbestos fibers.