Chemical Plants

Summary

Chemical plants play a vital part in the American economy. Statistically, there are over 13,500 U.S. chemical plants owned by about 9,000 companies. They generate more than a half-billion dollars in annual revenue.

These job roles include responsibilities ranging from research and development to front-line production. For decades, these American chemical plant workers faced health risks due to asbestos exposure.

MJN Brief

U.S. chemical plant workers had asbestos exposure from the 1920s to the 1980s. Once proven that asbestos exposure caused the deadly lung cancer disease called mesothelioma, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) worked hard to have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) removed from American work sites. This removal process included all chemical plants.

 

It was no small task removing ACMs from chemical plants. Every plant had installed asbestos products in all production areas for seven decades. Chemical plant owners, designers and builders considered asbestos the perfect support component for safety and economics. Chemical plants are hot, highly-pressurized facilities full of toxic substances.

Engineers identified asbestos as a natural insulation product for protecting hot processes. It was fire resistant making asbestos the ideal solution for flame control. Asbestos was exceptionally stable and safe when added to other chemicals as a filler or strengthener. It was also lightweight, anti-corrosive, electrically non-conductive, plentiful to source and economical to purchase. It seemed filling chemical plants full of asbestos had no drawback.

Asbestos Containing Materials in Chemical Plants

Chemical plants using ACMs were complex facilities. No two were alike. Chemical plants produced every type of product from cosmetics to rocket fuel. Things they all had in common were components and locations utilizing ACMs.

They included:

  • Chemical boilers and incinerators.
  • High-pressure pipe insulation.
  • Duct and delivery system wrappings.
  • Ovens, tanks , nd pumps.
  • Heat exchangers, furnaces, reactors and extruders.
  • Floor tiles and workspace assembly surfaces.
  • Generators and fuel storage areas.
  • Machine friction applications like gaskets and brakes.
  • Wallboards, paints and sealants.

Many chemical products also contained asbestos products. Toothpaste, hairspray and deodorants had asbestos additives. So did cookware and food storage containers. Chemical plants developed asbestos-based fabrics for public transportation and private automobiles. These factories even made their workers’ protective coveralls, gloves and masks from asbestos.

Chemical Plant Workers Exposed to Asbestos

Chemical plants exposed tens of thousands of American workers to asbestos during the seven-decade period from first implementing asbestos to banning it. It’s fair to say every chemical plant worker had the risk of primary and secondary asbestos exposure.

There were many jobs exposing chemical plant workers to dangerous asbestos fibers, including:

  • Chemical tenders and equipment operators.
  • Chemical engineers, designers and drafters.
  • Boilermakers and attendants.
  • High-pressure steamfitters and welders.
  • Plumbers, electricians and gas workers.
  • Chemists and chemical laboratory technicians.
  • Mixing and blending machine tenders.
  • Packaging and filling machine tenders.
  • Maintenance workers and janitorial staff.
  • Refitters, carpenters, drywallers and painters.
  • Supervisory and quality control inspectors.

Asbestos is a safe and stable material when correctly installed and left alone. The danger of asbestos exposure occurred during ACM handling, machining and forming into finished products. Asbestos exposure also happened when old asbestos was removed or repaired. Dried asbestos is friable which means it crumbles easily and releases tiny fibers into the workplace air.

These microscopic particles are silicates. They’re tiny rock fibers that can’t be broken down in the human body as organic bacterial and viruses can. Chemical plant workers inhaling asbestos fibers became doomed. These non-organic irritants impaled into the lung lining to mesothelium and stayed forever. Expelling asbestos fibers was impossible. Eventually, they formed scar tissue that turned into the deadly lung cancer disease mesothelioma.

A chemical plant worker’s risk of developing mesothelioma depended on the number of asbestos fibers they inhaled and the duration of exposure. The latency period for developing mesothelioma varied from 10 to over 50 years. Many workers had no idea they were in danger. Some still aren’t aware today. Tragically, some chemical plant owners and ACM product suppliers knew full well they placed people in peril. Now, they’re being held accountable.

Compensation for Chemical Plant Workers with Mesothelioma

If you are a chemical plant worker who developed mesothelioma from workplace asbestos exposure, you’re entitled to compensation. Negligent companies held responsible for causing mesothelioma must pay for medical expenses, lost income and personal damages. Families of mesothelioma victims can apply for payment on behalf of ill members. They can also file lawsuits in wrongful death cases.