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Chemical plant workers face health risks from occupational asbestos-exposure

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on June 26th, 2020

Chemical plant workers were constantly exposed to dangerous asbestos for several decades, between the 1930s and early 1980s. Until the late 1970s, asbestos-containing manufacturing equipment and products were extensively used and this led to a very high risk for asbestos-related diseases among chemical plant workers.

A chemical plant is an industrial facility in which various chemicals are manufactured. Workers at chemical plants performed tasks involved in the production of a range of products including pharmaceuticals, resins, cleaning materials, soap, and synthetic rubber. Chemical plants generally required high heat to convert elements and compounds from one form to the other. Due to the high-heat environment within the chemical plants, asbestos use was widespread to protect their workers as asbestos can withstand heat, fire, and chemical reactions. The workers unknowingly got exposed to the toxic asbestos fibers present in the production materials as well as the protective clothing they wore on the job.

The typical work routine of a chemical plant worker

The workers at chemical plants handle a variety of tasks such as the operation of machines, mixing chemical solutions, moving ingredients, processing and delivery, and filling containers.

The operators of chemical equipment often make use of reactor vessels and steam-jacketed kettles, whereas technicians worked on research and development of new chemical processes. Blending machine operators mixed chemicals to develop new solutions and packing machine operators made products ready for shipment. Tasks such as routine gasket removal would expose workers to asbestos fibers. Poorly ventilated and closed working spaces with a high rate of asbestos material disturbances led to high rates of asbestos exposure in chemical plant workers. Asbestos can be found in chemical plants in the following three areas:

  • Machinery and equipment: Asbestos was used to build the machinery and equipment in chemical plants. As an insulation component, asbestos may be found around pipes, valves, and gaskets. Equipment such as incinerators, grinders, mixers, boilers, burner pads, pumps, and radiators contained asbestos. Wear and tear of the machinery would expose workers to asbestos fibers.
  • Construction materials used to build chemical plants: Asbestos is common in older buildings and may be found in building materials such as paint, cement blocks, sealants, countertops, molding compounds, and insulation. Workers who might have come in contact with damaged building materials are likely to have inhaled asbestos fibers.
  • Protective clothing of workers: Chemical plant workers were provided protective clothing to protect from heat, fire, and avoid burns that may occur from chemical exposure. The aprons, face masks, gloves, and coveralls were made of asbestos before the dangers of the material were understood. Daily wear and tear of these garments and continuous heat and dry cycle converted asbestos protection into a dusty powder that was airborne and inhaled or swallowed by chemical plant workers.

While those people who worked in chemical plants between the years 1930 and 1980 face a high risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, those workers who repaired and maintained the machinery and equipment at chemical plants face the highest threat. This is because they would cut and replace asbestos insulation layers daily, which caused a release of tiny asbestos particles into the air that is extremely dangerous. When the asbestos fibers are inhaled, they get lodged in the workers' lungs and cannot be expelled, and as a result, these fibers accumulate and irritate the healthy body tissue for several decades. Supervisors or other workers in the vicinity of the area where a repair was done would have been exposed to the released asbestos fibers.

Currently, the workers at chemical plants continue to be at risk of asbestos exposure as buildings, machinery, and equipment that were made before the 1980s may still contain asbestos.

Chemical plant workers might develop asbestos-related conditions

A study conducted in the year 1979 revealed that 24% of the people among the 185 former chemical plant maintenance workers had asbestos fibers lodged in their lungs, and thickening of the lung lining was seen in 28% of the workers.

Nearly 60% of these chemical plant workers had symptoms of precancerous conditions and asbestosis. Former chemical plant workers who got exposed to a high amount of asbestos fibers at their workplace are at risk of developing precancerous conditions and serious diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. If chemical plant workers develop the following benign conditions, they can file an asbestos claim if they travel to Birmingham, AL to our medical facility and asbestos fibers are found in their lungs upon the free asbestos screening they undergo there:

Chemical plant workers may develop these cancers that are linked with their past asbestos exposure:

Chemical plant workers can claim financial compensation for their occupational asbestos exposure-related disease

If you are a former chemical plant worker, you are likely to have been exposed to asbestos while at work, and now it is important to regularly monitor your health to detect any asbestos-related illness as early as possible.

Usually, the first symptoms of these diseases appear as late as 20-50 years after the initial exposure, and therefore, it is important to get yourself tested for asbestos fibers in your lungs. You are entitled to receive compensation from the asbestos trust funds if you are suffering from an asbestos-related disease. The financial compensation can be very helpful in dealing with mounting medical costs associated with your asbestos-related disease. Our attorneys are highly experienced in asbestos-related claims and can guide you through the process of filing a claim.