Oil companies constructed refineries across the nation to facilitate the twentieth century’s intense demand for oil products.
The refinery process requires high heat in potentially flammable situations. Refineries considered asbestos as the ideal fire and temperature control material. Every refinery application contained products with asbestos materials. This exposed every American oil refinery worker to dangerous airborne asbestos fibers.
Oil Refinery Workers Roles and Responsibilities
Oil refineries employed thousands of workers. Their skills range from routine maintenance roles to highly sophisticated development engineer responsibilities. There have been no new refineries built since 1976 because of environmental regulations. However, there still are 137 refineries in operation today, producing 18.9 million barrels per day. Some refined oil products are gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil, lubricants, wax and a host of plastic products.
Asbestos became known as environmentally unsound by the 1970s. Companies began phasing out asbestos products, but by that time oil refineries had asbestos installed in every part of their facilities. Although no new refinery construction occurred, many refineries expanded and continued implementing asbestos-containing materials.
Asbestos exposure affected every oil refinery worker. Simply being in a refinery put anyone at risk for inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers. That’s regardless of their role and responsibility.
These varied occupations included:
- Engineers and designers
- Quality control supervisors
- Boilermakers and welders
- Millwrights and machinists
- Pipe and steamfitters
- Electricians, plumbers and HVAC installers
- Insulators and pipe wrappers
- Carpenters and steel crafters
- Maintenance and janitorial personnel
- Painters and drywallers
- Clerical and administration staff
Asbestos was prevalent in oil refineries. No one was safe from an environment where so many asbestos materials were present and emitting friable dust particles. During the 1980s, refineries controlled asbestos use. But by then, refinery workers suffered severe health damage.
Oil Refinery Workers and Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos appeared to be the perfect substance for many oil refinery applications and installations. Asbestos was a proven insulator and fire resister. That made dangerously hot and flammable refinery processes safer. That was short-term thinking as the long-term health effects for oil refinery employees are exceptionally dangerous.
There were other apparent asbestos material benefits in oil refineries. Asbestos was non-corrosive, making it excellent coatings for miles of steel pipes found in refineries. It was non-conductive and served to protect electrical devices. Asbestos was stable and used as an additive to secure high-pressure equipment. It was also cheap, plentiful and easy to handle.
Asbestos had a major drawback in oil refineries just as it had in all industry applications. Asbestos is relatively stable once installed and sealed, but it’s volatile when being cut, drilled, sanded or manipulated in any form. Worked asbestos released microscopic fibers that exposed oil refinery workers to clouds of airborne particles. This was particularly prominent in high asbestos areas like refinery rooms and piping systems.
Dust in construction areas and on refit jobs constantly exposed oil refinery workers to asbestos. Dozens of asbestos products required cutting, fitting and modifying for refinery boilers, pipes, pumps, furnaces and tanks. Flooring, wallboards and all insulating materials contained asbestos. Even oil refinery workers’ protective gloves, suits and masks were made of asbestos.
Refinery workers inhaled and ingested asbestos fibers daily. Their workplace air contained unacceptable asbestos levels. They also carried asbestos fibers home on their work clothes and personal equipment. This contaminated their home environment and family members too.
Oil Refinery Workers and Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief
Long-term asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma. This lung cancer disease develops after refinery workers breathed in air polluted with asbestos fibers. Microscopic asbestos particles are solid and sharp. They embed in the lung orabdominal lining or what’s known as the mesothelium.
It’s not possible to remove asbestos fibers from the mesothelium. They stay put forever. Five decades can pass while asbestos fibers silently sit in an oil refinery worker’s lungs until they break dormancy and develop cancer tumors. This disease is called mesothelioma, and it’s fatal. The risk of developing mesothelioma partly depends on the amount of asbestos exposure, the time length and the particular asbestos type.
Compensation for Oil Refinery Workers with Mesothelioma
To help offset costs for medical treatment and lost income, mesothelioma patients may receive compensation from negligent asbestos product producers and suppliers. Awards can also be punitive, and families can file claims for members ill with mesothelioma. Wrongful death suits are also an option.