Chemical Plant Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos in Chemical Plant Workers

Asbestos was used for many years in a wide variety of industries for its numerous insulating properties, as well as its ability to resist heat and fire. In the chemical industry, the aforementioned characteristics made asbestos beneficial in a variety of ways. The substance was used in furnaces, heat exchangers and to insulate pipes. Laborers in various plants were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis and numerous workers were also exposed to fibers of this harmful mineral. Chemical plant laborers rank high on the list of those at risk of developing asbestosis or mesothelioma--diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos fibers. Those working in chemical plants who were involved in the repair and maintenance of ovens, boilers, furnaces, extruders and other production units were also the individuals most likely to breathe asbestos filled air. In the course of maintaining and repairing equipment, these workers would have come into close contact with asbestos fibers; as such activities would have damaged and disturbed the asbestos-containing products, resulting in the release of asbestos fibers into the atmosphere. Those who worked in the vicinity of where such activities took place, such as custodians, formulators, chemists and office workers, also could have been exposed to the harmful fibers. Anyone exposed in this way has an increased risk of developing several life-threatening illnesses. These illnesses include asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma--a rare cancer frequently seen among those who worked where such exposure occurred. Chemical companies typically have a poor track record concerning how they deal with the safety of the public. With regard to asbestos, their record of utter disregard for their workers' safety and the safety of their families is abysmal. Companies such as DuPont, Dow and Union Carbide have gone as far as to advertise asbestos containing products as safe and pure. Chemical companies were well aware of the dangers of asbestos at the time these ads were run. As early as the 1920s, various medical journals linked lung disease and asbestos. Throughout the middle of the 20th century, certain companies even conducted their own research about cancer and lung disease and were warned by their own physicians that asbestos was killing people. Evidence has since been uncovered that such information was deliberately suppressed by these companies. Rather than warn their workers and provide them with appropriate protective gear, some companies concealed the reports that named asbestos as a killer. This caused tens of thousands of individuals to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused conditions. Many workers are just now seeing signs of mesothelioma, as the disease has a latency period of 20 to 50 years. While The EPA no longer allows asbestos for "new uses" in the United States, it can still be utilized for purposes that were previously established, especially if a substitute that is suitable does not exist. The majority of chemical plants constructed in the past 35 years have voluntarily avoided the use of asbestos; however, older equipment and buildings may still contain the harmful substance. Reference:
  • Lillis, R. "Asbestos disease in maintenance workers of the chemical industry." Pub Med (1979): n. pag. Web. 19 Apr 2011. Retrieved by Pub Med