Refinery Workers and Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Ruins Lives of Too Many Refinery Workers

You work at a refinery.

It doesn’t matter what your job there is. You could be a steamfitter, boilermaker or operator, millwright, electrician, plumber, ironworker, welder or construction laborer.

As long as you’re involved in helping run a refinery, then it’s likely you’ve been exposed to asbestos. And if you’ve been exposed, it’s likely you’re at moderate to high risk for mesothelioma.

Sources of asbestos exposure at a refinery include:

  • Pipe coatings and jackets

  • Boilers, furnaces and heat exchangers

  • Valves and gaskets

  • Personal protective gear

Asbestos is a cheap and abundant mineral with remarkable properties. Manufacturers of all these refinery-related products — and many more — put asbestos in them so that they would contain or shield against chemical reactions and high heat.

They more or less stopped doing this in the 1980s after the dangers of asbestos became widely known and the government stepped in with tight restrictions.

You would think that with asbestos use having been curbed more than a quarter century ago that the potential for asbestos exposure today has disappeared. But you would be wrong.

Asbestos Fibers Break Free

Refinery Workers
Asbestos-containing products made before the 1980s are still installed and in use at refineries practically everywhere. And they will remain in use for many years to come. 

What happens is that the asbestos in those products escapes into the air over time. Take a length of asbestos-coated pipe, for example.

As it ages, it loses the physical integrity it enjoyed when it was new. This deterioration allows tiny fibers of asbestos to break free from the chemical or physical matrix binding it.

Those fibers can also break free and enter the air if you somehow disturb a product containing asbestos. For instance, say you need to inspect a valve. The steps you’ll take to open it up so that you can have a look at its interior condition will free asbestos from the valve’s coating and gasket.

Another way asbestos gets into the air is from personal protective gear that becomes threadbare or that develops rips after years and years of use.

Once asbestos is in the air, it floats like dust particles. As a result, it’s altogether too easy to breathe the particles in. Or even accidentally swallow them, if they land on your lips.

Inhaled, the asbestos ends up in your lungs. Swallowed, it ends up in your intestines. Whichever the destination, those fibers will be there for all time.

You don’t notice anything right away because it takes decades for trapped asbestos to cause mesothelioma.

Many Unions, One Concern About Asbestos

Representing the workers at a typical refinery are many trade unions. All of those organizations are concerned about the threat asbestos poses to their members.

Trade unions serving refinery workers include:

Contact your union for more information about the dangers of asbestos and about what you can do right now to reduce or eliminate your risk of further exposure.

Also, be sure to ask your union about programs it may offer that can help you be ready in case mesothelioma someday rears its ugly head within you.