Chemical plants, by name, can sound a little precarious, but the most apparent hazards might not be the most frightening. Chemical plants employ thousands of workers to this day, but before the 1970s these workers were put at risk of inhaling toxic fumes, coming into contact with corrosives and dealing with high temperatures. One of the most dangerous threats of all was never articulated—asbestos exposure.
Asbestos and Chemical Plants in America
In the past, chemical workers were unknowingly subjected to asbestos exposure as the material was considered an inexpensive and resilient substance to protect against fire and heat. It was used to line equipment including boilers, pipes, tanks and pumps as it protected the pipes from corroding and from high temperatures.
The World Health Organization estimates that around 125 million people are exposed to asbestos at work.
Asbestos is not dangerous until the fibers become airborne. Once the fibers are in this state, they remain in the air and can be easily inhaled. As asbestos fibers reach the lining of the lungs or abdomen, they can cause mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is, at present, incurable, though specialists and researchers are always searching for new ways to manage the disease and its symptoms.
Asbestos Use in Chemical Plants
Asbestos could be found in the lining of benches, tables and within the protecting clothing that chemical workers were given to wear. Before 1970s, the dangers of asbestos were not fully realized and many workers wore face masks made of asbestos to avoid inhaling toxic chemicals. Little did they know that they were, unfortunately, breathing in asbestos fibers in such close proximity.
The primary type of asbestos used in these kinds of environments was chrysotile. This was said to be less dangerous than other kinds of asbestos as the body’s immune system can break it down, but the tiny fibers can still become lodged in the lining of the lungs and cause tumors. The texture of asbestos means that it can easily crumble or be broken down, which quickly deposits the fibers into the air.
Dow Chemical Plant
Chemical plants took little to no care in protecting their workers against asbestos, and the negligence has resulted in many court cases and payouts across the world.
Dow Chemical Plant in Georgia is one notorious example. The company was hit with 5.95 million dollar cancer lawsuit in 2013 for continuing to use asbestos in their plant. The court concluded that it would cost Dow over 1.2 billion to remove and replace the asbestos in all of its plants.
Workers Exposed in Chemical Plants
It is said that doctors began warning of cancer risks in relation to asbestos as early at the 1930s, though owners of chemical plants continued to use it until it was banned in the late 1970s.
A 1979 study reported an unusual rise in mesothelioma cases from 1967 to 1971. A total of 26 cases had been confirmed during this time, and as mesothelioma is so rare, an investigation began. The study concluded that 25 of the patients had worked in large chemical plants, with the remaining patient being the wife of one chemical worker.
One of the chemical plants in question was found to contain a large amount of asbestos, with a high concentration of airborne fibers in the production areas. The report states that even those not working in the production areas were at risk of developing secondary mesothelioma, from fibers entering other areas through adjacent rooms or from routine maintenance work.
Maintenance Workers in Chemical Plants
Maintenance workers within the chemical plants were at the highest risk, as they would cut and remove asbestos on a daily basis. This would create dust containing fibers of asbestos, which could disappear into the atmosphere and become inhaled by anyone working within the plant.
Asbestos was also commonly used in the construction of the plants themselves, as wall and floor insulation to protect against possible fires. Those working on building repairs may have also come into contact with asbestos.
Compensation for Asbestos Exposure in Chemical Plants
Despite new laws and regulations around asbestos, people are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma year upon year. At this point, nobody can be sure how many people will be affected by asbestos exposure, but those who have been exposed through their job may be eligible for compensation.
While this cannot make up for the past, the settlement can help towards medical costs or loss-of-earnings, while also providing for loved ones. When a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, they have up to 3 years (depending on the state) to make a claim. The family of the patient also have up to 3 years to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the patient has passed.
It’s important to work with a law firm specializing in asbestos law. Experience mesothelioma lawyers are aware which companies in the state are known for their use of asbestos, and they will aim to gain rightful compensation for the patient.
If you’re a veteran and you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible to file a claim against the VA. To find out more about seeking compensation as a veteran, contact our VA-Accredited Claims Agents today.