Oil refineries are heavy industry plants where crude oil is refined and processed into various products, such as gasoline, heating oil, diesel fuel, and kerosene. Refining oil into usable products requires the liquid to be boiled and for assorted chemicals to be removed. Oil refinery workers work in large complexes with a great deal of piping to transfer fluids between many chemical processing units. (asbestos.com)
It is estimated there are 144 oil refineries in the US with nearly 40,000 employed. Texas has the most oil refinery workers at 21,760. According to a 2018 review in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, oil refinery workers are three times more likely to get asbestos cancer than the general public.
Oil Refinery Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment, 2018: 38,930
- Similar Occupations: Miners, construction workers, boilermakers, carpenters, hazard material removal workers, ironmakers, insulation workers
- Current Average Age: 38
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
- States with the Most Workers: Texas, Louisiana, California, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania
The Oil Refinery Industry and Asbestos
Oil refinery workers have historically been exposed to many types of asbestos-containing products: (mesowatch.com)
- Thermal insulation: Asbestos was used to insulate where fire and heat were major concerns. Asbestos was commonly found in tanks, pipes, boilers, ovens, reactors, furnaces, dryers, heat exchangers and pumps.
- Refinery equipment: Asbestos was often found in the equipment, such as sealants, sheets, spiral wound, and metal-jacketed gaskets.
- Construction products: Asbestos is still common in protective screens around welding sites, in some types of duct tape, and insulation in roofing, ceiling and floor tiles.
- Protective equipment: To protect workers from heat risks, heat-resistant clothes were often provided at oil refineries that contained asbestos.
No matter what the worker’s exact occupation was, oil refinery employees usually were exposed to asbestos from handling equipment, working in refining oil, and using protective clothing where they inhaled asbestos fibers.
Asbestos was heavily used in areas of oil refineries where fire and heat were a big concern. Many of the processes that were undertaken in these facilities required the workers to cut, sand and handle materials that contained asbestos.
These actions created clouds of asbestos dust. There also were billions of invisible fibers that the workers breathed into their lungs or swallowed. Over time, some of the fibers lodged in the lung or abdominal lining. The accumulation of these hazardous fibers could cause scarring and inflammation that could lead to cancer in some employees.
A 2000 study performed by scientists at the National Cancer Institute found that 96% to 100% of mesothelioma cases among oil refinery workers were due to asbestos exposure. For oil workers exposed to asbestos who got lung cancer, the numbers were 42% to 49%. (NIH.gov)
Further, a British study of 45,000 oil refinery employees from 1946 to 1971 found higher rates of mesothelioma and other diseases caused by asbestos exposure.
The wife of an oil refinery worker named Ginger Hall filed a mesothelioma lawsuit in 2012 against 12 companies where her husband worked. These corporations included Citgo, Chevron USA, DuPont, Mobil, Union Oil, and Texaco.
She claimed he was exposed to asbestos at several refineries because his clothes were coated with asbestos dust when he came home from work. After years of being exposed to asbestos in this way, Ginger Hall developed mesothelioma. She sought compensation for medical costs, mental anguish, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
Another case involved Amanolla Shahabi, a 77-year-old engineer from Iran. He worked at the National Iranian Oil Company in his home country before he moved to the US in the 1980s. He also worked for Bechtel at a Chevron refinery in California. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2007 and was awarded $14.8 million in a 2008 lawsuit.
Some of the companies that have been defendants against mesothelioma lawsuits in the oil refinery business include:
- Philip Carey
- AW Chesterton Company