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Oil Refinery Workers & Mesothelioma

Oil refineries process crude oil into many different forms of fuel that power our nation. Working in a refinery can be very dangerous. Employees are regularly in industrial settings where they can be surrounded by obvious dangers like toxic chemicals and flammable materials. But there’s another potential hazard that may not be as easy to see—exposure to asbestos.Even though today’s oil refinery workers must follow important safety rules and regulations, they are still at risk for asbestos exposure because the majority of the facilities they work in were built when asbestos-containing products were widely used in the construction of refineries.Even worse, before 1980, asbestos exposure was potentially a daily on-the-job danger refinery workers were probably never warned about. Unfortunately, this often-repeated exposure might have put refinery workers at risk of developing mesothelioma.

How Were Oil Refinery Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

Because asbestos is an incredibly resilient, strong, and heat-resistant mineral, dozens of companies chose to use it as an ingredient in the manufacturing of thousands of products produced before 1980. The problem is that when asbestos-containing products are damaged, or wear down due to age, they can release tiny, dangerous fibers into the air. These fibers can be inhaled or carried home on a worker’s skin or clothing in the form of dust. Wherever exposure takes place, asbestos fibers can get stuck inside a person’s body and eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma.

Asbestos-containing products used in refinery construction may have included insulation, ceiling tiles, and paint. Asbestos may also have been an ingredient used in materials that insulated boilers and pipes, covered work surfaces, and even was a component of the protective gear employees wore regularly.

Oil refinery workers often perform many different jobs and tasks. Where and how an employee was exposed to asbestos will usually depend on what his or her position was. That said, mesothelioma has been known to affect many different occupations, including:

  • Boilermakers
  • Electricians
  • Engineers
  • Environmental Technicians
  • Inspectors
  • Lab Testers
  • Machinists
  • Pipefitters
  • Refinery Operators
  • Welders

The fact is that U.S. companies have not built a new major fuel-processing plant since 1976. So whether you used to work or are still working in an oil refinery in any position—laborer or not—you could have inhaled asbestos fibers without even knowing it.

Study: Pleural Mesothelioma & Oil Refinery Workers

The first study to find an excess of pleural (affecting the lungs) mesothelioma diagnoses among oil refinery workers exposed to asbestos was conducted in 1994. The researchers studied workers from 2 oil refineries located in Italy who were employed between 1914 and 1988. The results?

  • 10 cases of pleural mesothelioma were found
  • 7 of the men had been maintenance workers
  • 1 had been an electrician
  • 2 were unspecified blue-collar workers

The researchers concluded, “The results uphold the notion that exposure to asbestos in oil refineries causes pleural mesotheliomas.”

Mesothelioma Can Take Decades to Develop

It only takes 1 inhaled asbestos fiber to cause mesothelioma, and with so many potential sources of repeated workplace exposure, it’s understandable why oil refinery workers are such a high-risk group.

Mesothelioma often takes a long time to develop—as much as 20-50 years. That means oil refinery workers who were exposed decades ago may just now be receiving a diagnosis. Today, there is still potential for on-the-job asbestos exposure, but the threat is much lower due to public awareness and much-needed safety regulations.