Oil Refinery Workers

America has an insatiable appetite for refined oil products. Oil discovery happened in the United States in 1857, which is the same period the internal combustion engine emerged.

Crude oil pumped from natural underground reservoirs needs chemical alteration or refining before it’s suitable for finished product consumption.

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Oil Refinery Workers and Asbestos Exposure

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.

Asbestos appeared to be the perfect substance for many oil refinery applications and installations. Asbestos was a proven insulator and fire resister. It made dangerously hot and flammable refinery processes safer.

However, 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 exposed 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 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.

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 using asbestos products.

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:

  • Boilermakers and welders
  • Carpenters and steel crafters
  • Clerical and administration staff
  • Electricians, plumbers, and HVAC installers
  • Engineers and designers
  • Insulators and pipe wrappers
  • Maintenance and janitorial personnel
  • Millwrights and machinists
  • Painters and drywallers
  • Pipe and steamfitters
  • Quality control supervisors

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, many refinery workers had already been put at risk.

Oil Refinery Workers and Mesothelioma

Long-term asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma. This disease develops after refinery workers breathed in air polluted with asbestos fibers.

Did You Know?

Asbestos Particle Dangers

Microscopic asbestos particles are solid and sharp. They embed in the linings of the lung or abdomen. It’s not possible to remove asbestos fibers once inside. 

Five decades can pass while asbestos fibers sit in an oil refinery worker’s lungs and eventually cause cancer tumors to grow.

This disease is called mesothelioma, and it is fatal. The risk of developing mesothelioma partly depends on the amount of asbestos exposure, the length of time, 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 companies and suppliers. Awards can also be punitive, and families can file claims for members ill with mesothelioma. Wrongful death suits are also an option.

Our Justice Support Team can provide more information about mesothelioma and your legal options. Get a free case review today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Cancer Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

View 3 Sources
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  2. Selikoff, I. J., Churg, J., & Hammond, E. C. (2006, December 16). NYAS Publications. Retrieved from https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1749-6632.1965.tb41097.x
  3. Tsai, S. P., Waddell, L. C., Gilstrap, E. L., Ransdell, J. D., & Ross, C. E. (1998, December 6). Mortality among maintenance employees potentially exposed to asbestos in a refinery and petrochemical plant. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/(SICI)1097-0274(199601)29:1<89::AID-AJIM11>3.0.CO;2-W
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