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Petroleum Workers are at Risk for Developing Mesothelioma

In the 1960s, the super-powerful asbestos proved to be something more than a cheap solution; namely, a health hazard. In fact, the type of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, which has the scientific name of mesothelioma, is known by many people as “asbestos cancer.”

Petroleum refinery workers have consistently been exposed to asbestos for over half a century.  The heating methods utilized at oil refineries since the 1940s required powerful insulating material for distillation pipes, conducts, and columns. With its heat-proof qualities, asbestos was perfect for this.

Over the years, petroleum workers in contact with the asbestos present in refineries have been suffering from their exposure to the mineral. The list of items that may have contained asbestos at refineries includes: pipes, reactors, boilers, ovens, heat exchangers, pumps, furnaces, tanks, and driers.

In fact, workers didn’t only suffer from direct contact with asbestos piping and surfaces; asbestos was, rather ironically, also used in protective gear. Moreover, aging and damaged asbestos releases its dangerous fibers into the air, jeopardizing the health of those who work in the vicinity. Needless to say, petroleum workers in charge of repairing this asbestos-made or asbestos-lined equipment found themselves in a very dangerous position.

There are many studies linking mesothelioma with petroleum workers. A British study carried out among 45,000 petroleum workers, employed at a refinery between 1946 and 1971 for a minimum period of one year, concluded that the incidence of mesothelioma was much higher among them than the rest of the population. Another study carried out in the North of Italy yielded similar results.

Although there is presently no doubt that petroleum refinery workers who are in contact with asbestos are at a high risk of developing mesothelioma, there are hundreds of refineries in the United States where asbestos is still present. The fact is that the refineries were built before the asbestos regulations changed in the late 1970s, and they are still active.

Even people who live near a petroleum refinery can be at risk, since fires and explosions, combined with strong winds, may cause asbestos fibers to be inhaled by the plant’s surrounding population.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can remain in the lungs, clinging into the pleural lining for 20-50 years, before any mesothelioma symptoms appear. When they do, it is too late, and medicine can do very little, as mesothelioma is a very malignant form of cancer.

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