Asbestos Exposure for Indiana Chemical Plant Workers
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History & Background
Working in chemical plants has always been dangerous. Unfortunately, the protective gear used in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s may have caused more harm than good by exposing plant workers to toxic asbestos. Because asbestos is heat-resistant and works well as an insulator, chemical plants used the substance to line high-heat equipment, fire-proof tables and workbenches, and even make personal protective equipment (PPE), such as heat-resistant clothing and face masks.
In the 30s, however, research began to associate asbestos with cancer. Doctors warned against using asbestos on the job, but many employers continued to utilize it because asbestos was cheaper than other insulation materials. Whether they were working with asbestos or wearing it, many workers developed health problems.
How Were Chemical Plant Workers Exposed?
Working with machinery and equipment put workers at high risk for asbestos exposure because they constantly had to create, manipulate, and install asbestos-based insulation. Activities like cutting and otherwise damaging materials that contain asbestos release harmful particles into the air. When inhaled, these fibers can inflame the respiratory system and cause permanent scarring in the lungs. This kind of damage can lead to cancer diagnoses, mesothelioma, and other serious illnesses.
Nevertheless, those handling asbestos were not the only ones at risk. Anyone who was close enough to inhale fibers could be exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos. Asbestos exposure could also take place any time a worker disturbed asbestos-containing materials. Even harmlessly brushing against insulation could release toxic fibers and lead to inhalation and exposure.
Anyone who installed or removed the plant’s gaskets could be exposed to asbestos, as well. Heat-resistant asbestos made for effective gaskets, but they also introduced another opportunity for mechanics and other workers to inhale and ingest asbestos fibers.
Any damaged or frequently used materials at a chemical plant could cause asbestos exposure in any worker who stumbled upon them.
Chemical Plant Workers & Asbestos Diseases
Asbestos is especially toxic over time when the substance begins to wear down. Cutting, grinding, and sawing asbestos also releases its harmful, needle-like fibers. Wearing asbestos is also dangerous, especially when the clothes are worn frequently, and employees are active. Every time asbestos is manipulated, tiny fibers are released into the air and those around the material can inhale or ingest them. Inhaled or ingested fibers can embed themselves in the chest area and cause long-term pulmonary damage. The potential result is chest pain, breathing difficulties, coughing, and a variety of other painful symptoms.
In many cases, company doctors warned plant owners of the health risks associated with asbestos. These medical professionals documented many instances of pulmonary distress that developed after employees spent significant amounts of time working with asbestos. Some plants failed to protect their employees or even inform workers about asbestos-related hazards. This negligence allowed countless chemical plant workers to develop cancer, lung disease, and other asbestos-related conditions.
The dangers of asbestos have been heavily documented over the years. Many employees filed lawsuits against their employers and pursed financial damages for their suffering. Some of the top chemical plants in U.S. history were sued by former employees and their family members. When it comes to asbestos, companies like Dow, DuPont, and Georgia Pacific have a dark past.
To this day, many companies do not take the appropriate precautions when working with asbestos.