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.

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