Of all the jobs that put individuals at risk for exposure to asbestos, construction workers are at the top. However, there is one job that has workers who are obviously at higher risk. Refractory plant workers were once exposed to large quantities of asbestos on a daily basis as the primary function of their jobs. Refractory plants are facilities where materials are processed that are highly resistant to heat. Before the laws banning asbestos in the 1980s were passed, the most popular refractory material was asbestos. Refractory workers are those on the front lines processing tons of asbestos every day.
Not only was asbestos one of the primary materials being processed, it was also used in the duties of processing. This means refractory plant workers were processing asbestos with asbestos products, exposing them to the small fibers that have been linked to a number of severe respiratory conditions. This took place on a daily basis from the 1940s to the 1980s. Asbestos was used in so many places and in so many products that demand was extremely high. It was used to make siding, insulation, walls, floors, ceilings, and adhesives, among other products.
Asbestos and Refractory Plants
Even though the legal ban was enacted, it still did not stop exposure of asbestos to refractory plant workers. Refractory plant workers can still be exposed to asbestos in a number of ways. These plants process large quantities of raw materials, and asbestos is a naturally occurring compound that may be present in these materials. Plant workers must crush these raw materials and mix them into cement, concrete, and clay used for bricks. This entire process creates large amounts of dust from the raw materials that can contain asbestos fibers.
Other duties of refractory plant workers not only include crushing and processing raw materials, but bagging the powder or putting it into other containers and making bricks and other materials in super hot kilns. Using and working with the hot kilns required protective clothing and insulation that was all made of asbestos. Because asbestos was so prevalent in the past, old asbestos fibers can still be present in older parts of the plant. Combining this old asbestos with new asbestos brought in from the raw materials being used makes refractory plant workers still very much at risk for exposure to asbestos and for developing asbestos-related illnesses.