Asbestos Exposure at Oil Refineries

Quick Summary

Oil refineries are one of the many industrial work sites where workers were regularly exposed to asbestos. Because of the high incidence of asbestos exposure at oil refineries over the past few decades, those that formerly worked in these environments are at a greater risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma.

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History of Oil Refineries in America

Oil refineries have had a long, rich history in the United States. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, oil entrepreneurs including John D. Rockefeller lead the industry when they discovered oil reserves, created new wells and improved processes for refining and distributing.

In the following years, oil refineries were used to produce kerosene and ultimately gasoline, which became the most significant product of the refineries. In fact, by 1911, gasoline had overtaken kerosene which had previously dominated the industry.

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Throughout World War I, the oil industry worked with the Federal Fuel Administration to streamline the production, refinement and shipping of oil to fuel tanks and airplanes. American oil refineries also provided the Allies with about 80% of the fuel they used throughout World War II.

Although the first American oil refinery was built in 1862, by 2018 there were 150 petroleum refineries in operation in the U.S. The latest development was the Magellan Midstream Partners LP in Corpus Christi, Texas with 2,500 barrels per calendar day.

Asbestos Use in Oil Refineries

Asbestos use was widespread in oil refineries throughout the 20th century. Asbestos-containing insulation was used in the design and construction of the refineries themselves, as lining for pipes used in the refinement process. Asbestos products could also be found in ceiling and flooring tiles, roofing tiles and even duct tape.

The oil refining process, of course, required the use of extremely high temperatures. Asbestos, being heat and flame resistant, was therefore employed extensively.

Some of the protective clothing that oil refinery workers wore had asbestos fibers woven into the fabric. If the material of this clothing was compromised in any way, the asbestos fibers could become airborne and ingested.

Workers Exposed in Oil Refineries

Although all kinds of oil refinery workers were exposed to asbestos on the job, the risk was particularly high for pipefitters, maintenance workers and insulators due to their close-proximity work with airborne asbestos.

While undisturbed asbestos is usually not a health hazard, these employees worked in situations where the asbestos could become crumbled or broken and where they sometimes had to handle it directly or make a repair on an asbestos-containing unit.

Some employees were required to sand or cut materials containing asbestos, creating asbestos dust. In other cases, workers had to return to flood-damaged or otherwise damaged workplaces where airborne asbestos was present.

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Mesothelioma in Oil Refinery Workers

The health effects that asbestos exposure has on oil refinery workers are extensive. These workers are at a much higher risk of developing asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma or illnesses such as asbestosis.

When they ingested the asbestos fibers stuck onto their protective clothing from the machinery or the building around them, they were put at risk for lifelong health complications.

Did you know?

Since the symptoms of asbestos-related illness don’t present themselves until many years after exposure, many of the oil refinery workers who were exposed during the 1970s or earlier are just discovering the health effects now.

All of the oil refineries that are still in operation today were built before 1976 and before asbestos was banned for use in construction. While awareness about the dangers of airborne asbestos is much more pronounced today, it can be startling to realize the extent of dormant, contained asbestos still present in workplaces to this very day.

Compensation for Asbestos Exposure in Oil Refineries

There is compensation available for oil refinery workers or the families of oil refinery workers who were exposed to asbestos in their workplaces. There are a variety of legal channels to pursue in order to get the compensation you need. To maximize your chances of receiving a good settlement, we recommend finding a mesothelioma lawyer to help you build your case.

Additionally, if you are a veteran who was exposed to asbestos during active duty and you’ve since developed mesothelioma, you may be eligible for VA benefits. Contact our VA-Accredited Claims Agent today to review your claim.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View Sources

ThomasNet® “How Oil Refining Transformed U.S. History & Way of Life.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 20, 2018.

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