Exposure to Asbestos on Chemical Plants
History & Background
Chemical plant workers were regularly exposed to toxic
asbestos materials in decades past. From the 1940s through the end of the 1970s,
asbestos was considered one of the best insulators available on the market.
It was resistant to heat and fire and was often used to line high-heat
equipment such as tanks, ovens, pipes, boilers and pumps. Asbestos also
lined work benches and tables and was found in some clothing chemical
workers wore to protect themselves from burns and fire.
Some employees may have even donned asbestos-containing face masks. When
doctors began warning of cancer and other risks of exposure to the mineral
as early as the 1930s, owners of some chemical plants continued using
it, even though safer, but more expensive, insulation materials were available
at that time.
How Were Chemical Plant Workers Exposed?
Workers who maintained and repaired equipment and machinery are at the
highest risk for asbestos exposure, because they would cut, remove and
replace layers of asbestos insulation daily. During this process, asbestos
fibers can be released into the air and then inhaled. Inhalation and ingestion
of fibers can cause inflammation and scarring that may lead to the development
of mesothelioma cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses.
Even those who worked in the area where a repair was conducted could have
been exposed to asbestos dust and fibers. Workers could have also been
exposed if they simply brushed against an insulated pipe or other insulated
equipment and disturbed asbestos, releasing fibers to be inhaled. Asbestos
gaskets were used to prevent leakage between solid surfaces in plants.
During gasket removal, workers and mechanics were exposed to asbestos
fibers. Asbestos was also commonly used during the construction of these
plants. Any worker who came across damaged building materials may have
been exposed to and inhaled asbestos fibers.
Chemical Plant Workers & Asbestos Diseases
Asbestos is especially toxic when it is cut, grinded, sawed or simply worn
or damaged because of age or overuse. When crumbled or broken asbestos
releases tiny fibers that filter into the air. Anyone working close by
is likely to ingest or inhale the fibers, which then can embed in the
chest area and cause long-term pulmonary damage. The potential result
is chest pain, breathing difficulties, cough and a variety of other painful symptoms.
In many cases, plant owners were warned of asbestos hazards, especially
by company doctors who observed signs of pulmonary distress in workers
who encountered asbestos regularly. In some cases, plants took no precautions
to protect workers from the dangers of airborne asbestos or inform the
workers of these hazards. This negligence resulted in generations of chemical
plant workers developing asbestos-related diseases and other lung conditions.
These diseases were documented through the years by the employees who sought
financial restitution through lawsuits and asbestos trust claims. Some
of the top chemical plants in the United States – Dow, DuPont, and
Georgia Pacific to name a few – have histories as defendants against
former employees and their family members.