Oil has been, and continues to be, an essential part of our lives. For a large portion of the time that oil has been used, asbestos was also used to protect against heat and the risk of fire. While asbestos was well suited for those tasks, it also posed a risk to people when its microscopic fibers were breathed in. Unfortunately, the asbestos risk for oil refinery workers is significant.
Asbestos and Refining Oil
Crude oil (or petroleum) is unprocessed oil that is extracted from the ground. It is then sent to industrial plants where it is processed and refined into products that are useable, such as gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel. These plants are usually large complexes with extensive piping that is used to transport fluids to the various processing units.
Petroleum is highly flammable, which can result in explosions and serious fires. In order to refine it, crude oil must be boiled. This process causes gases to release and chemicals to separate. The risks of refining crude oil require parts, equipment, and clothing to be insulated. Historically, asbestos was used in order to protect against high temperatures and potential fires. Specifically, asbestos was contained in:
- Thermal insulation: used any place where heat and fire could become an issue. From the 1930s to the 1970s, it was common for oil refinery vessels to contain highly flammable materials that required this insulation. Thermal insulation was also used in pipelines, tanks, boilers, reactors, furnaces, and pumps;
- Refinery equipment: this included sealants and gaskets, which were used in piping and pumps to prevent leaks;
- Protective clothing: workers around extreme heat and flammable materials wore special clothing.
Refinery workers are responsible for many tasks, which, in the past, placed them at risk of coming into contact with asbestos. This risk was particularly high when materials containing asbestos were cut or sanded, which released the microscopic fibers into the air. Some of the jobs refinery workers conduct include:
- Operation of the refining or processing units;
- Maintenance and repairing of equipment;
- Controlling of pumping stations;
- Testing oil in storage tanks; and
- Regulation of the flow of oil in pipelines.
Texas, California, and Louisiana have the most oil refineries within the United States.
Exposure to asbestos fibers can result in the development of serious diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. These diseases often develop over a long period of time, meaning oil refinery workers exposed to asbestos fibers many years ago may still be at risk. Though the use of asbestos was largely discontinued by the 1980s, due to the prolonged development of asbestos-related diseases, more individuals continue to be diagnosed today.
If you believe that you have health issues related to exposure to asbestos, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. It may be possible for you to recover from those responsible for your exposure. At the Throneberry Law Group, our attorneys will travel to you to help you with your asbestos-related case.