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 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. 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.