Petrochemical / Refinery Workers

Oil Refinery Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Occupational Asbestos Exposure for Petrochemical & Refinery Workers

Prior to the 1980s, oil refineries and petrochemical facilities were filled with asbestos-containing materials and equipment that needed to withstand the demands of petroleum processing. Workers in these facilities were exposed to asbestos on a regular basis, increasing their risks of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases.

If you or someone you love developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related health condition, past employment as an oil refinery worker may provide grounds to seek compensation for your losses.

SWMW Law is a nationally recognized plaintiffs practice that has cultivated a reputation for fighting on behalf of asbestos exposure victims across the country. We have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for workers in refineries, chemical plants, and other at-risk occupations and have prevailed in high stakes claims against some of the nation’s largest corporations and insurance carriers. If you have a potential case, we have the experience and resources to help. 

SWMW Law serves oil refinery workers and families nationwide. To request a free consultation, call (855) 744-1922 or contact us online.

How Refinery Workers Were Exposed to Asbestos

Workers in oil refineries are tasked with important jobs related to processing and refining petroleum (crude oil) into useful products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, heating oil, plastics, and more. Naturally, this type of work came with risks, including the prominent risk of fires and explosions. However, refinery workers of the 20th century were largely unaware of another deadly hazard: exposure to asbestos. 

Prior to the federal government’s crackdown on asbestos in the 1980s, refineries and other petrochemical facilities relied heavily on asbestos because of its ability to resist extreme temperatures and reduce risks of fires and explosions involving petroleum and highly combustible byproducts. 

As such, refinery workers who were employed at nearly any point in the 20th century were exposed to asbestos through a variety of products and equipment. This includes asbestos that was riddled throughout industrial equipment, as the mineral was once an essential means for providing insulation. Workers in refineries encountered asbestos insulation in boilers, furnaces, ovens, heat exchangers, pumps, valves, and reactors, as well as in and around the elaborate piping systems which typically transported hot fluids and steam between chemical processing units, distillations columns, and other refinery equipment. 

Asbestos was also prevalent in a variety of components that were regularly handled, repaired, and replaced by workers, including gaskets, sealants, valves, and sheets. Exposure risks were elevated when these materials broke, degraded, or were otherwise damaged by the immense demands of petroleum processing, as the repairs necessary to fix them often resulted in the release of asbestos fibers that could then be inhaled or ingested by workers. 

Apart from asbestos found in refinery equipment, piping, and machinery components, another major source of exposure came from the building materials used to construct refineries. As industrial facilities with unique demands, oil refineries and other petrochemical processing plants were filled with asbestos-containing building materials. Workers encountered asbestos contained in everything from the floors they walked on to the ceilings, walls, plumbing, piping, and heat-resistant paneling all around them. When these materials were damaged or when repairs involving cutting, sawing, sanding, or grinding were required, harmful asbestos fibers would be released throughout the worksite. 

Asbestos was also commonly used in safety equipment intended to protect workers from heat, fire, and corrosive substances. This includes gloves, aprons, fire jackets, aluminized safety suits, and other protective gear. While these products may have protected workers from immediate hazards, they contributed to their asbestos exposure and risk of developing asbestos-related diseases years down the line. 

Given the widespread use of asbestos in oil refineries, workers in a number of trades and support industries were exposed to asbestos found in these facilities. Some examples include:

  • Insulators
  • Operators and Engineers
  • Boilermakers
  • Maintenance workers
  • Millwrights
  • Mechanics and Machinists
  • Steamfitters 
  • Pipefitters and Plumbers
  • Welders
  • Electricians
  • Construction workers


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Sources of Asbestos Exposure for Petrochemical Refinery Workers

Oil refineries were rife with asbestos, particularly in machinery and equipment components, building materials, and safety gear. 

Unfortunately, this hazardous mineral was utilized without workers’ knowledge of its dangerous properties. Unaware of the hazards, refinery workers didn’t think twice about handling, repairing, or disturbing asbestos-containing materials and faced risks of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers daily. 

Asbestos-containing products that put petrochemical refinery workers at risk include:

  • Industrial Equipment and Machinery
    • Pumps, valves, boilers, steam traps, vats, furnaces, reactors and distilling units, heat-treating equipment, cracking units, cooling towers, caustic pipe and fittings
  • Building Materials
    • Heat-resistant paneling, millboard, ceiling and floor tiles, fire-retardant sheetrock
  • Thermal Insulation and Refractory Materials
    • Firebrick and refractory cement, half-moon thermal pipe insulation, block insulation, insulating exchanging cement, and fireproofing spray; all of which were used on boilers, heat-treating equipment, industrial vats, steam pipes, and fittings
  • Protective Gear  
    • Heat-resistant aprons, gloves, face shields, masks, respirators, shoe covers, and suits
  • American Association for Justice
  • MATA
  • The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis

Studies Link Petrochemical, Refinery Work to Increased Mesothelioma Risks

Today, accepted research shows the single greatest risk factor in developing mesothelioma is occupational exposure of asbestos in an at-risk industry. As the CDC notes, work in petrochemical and refinery occupations elevates the risk of asbestos exposure and the development of devastating diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related conditions.

Many studies have supported the connection between the development of mesothelioma and work in the petrochemical and refinery industries. Some examples include:

  • A 2018 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine analyzed cancer risks for oil refinery workers using a meta-analysis of nearly 40 separate studies. Researchers found workers in oil refineries are over 3x more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.
  • A 2017 study that compared mesothelioma mortality rates in over 200 industries found the petroleum refining industry had one of the highest mesothelioma proportionate mortality ratios (PMR) of all job sectors studied, meaning these workers died more frequently from mesothelioma than workers in other industries. 
  • A 1994 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health studied workers from two oil refineries in Italy who had been employed between 1914 and 1988. Researchers found evidence to support that exposure to asbestos in oil refineries causes pleural mesothelioma, including significantly increased risks of mesothelioma among maintenance workers, electricians, and laborers.

Compensation for Oil Refinery Workers Exposed to Asbestos

Petrochemical and oil refinery workers exposed to asbestos face elevated risks of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related health conditions. These diseases are devastating for victims and families and come with profound emotional and financial consequences. 

Fortunately, there are legal options that allow victims and families to pursue financial compensation for their losses. These include: 

  • Asbestos trust fund claims. As the dangers of asbestos became known, special trust funds were established and funded by asbestos companies that filed for bankruptcy. These funds exist specifically to compensate victims harmed by exposure to asbestos-containing products. 
  • Personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. In some situations, refinery workers and their families may be able to pursue civil claims against solvent companies that negligently produced, distributed, or used asbestos and endangered workers.

For decades, asbestos companies continued to endanger the lives of countless workers by producing asbestos-containing products and withholding crucial information about their health risks. The result has been decades of diagnoses and deaths caused by occupational asbestos exposure.

At SWMW, we help victims and families fight back for the justice they deserve. In addition to ensuring accountability by representing our clients in civil personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, and filing asbestos trust fund claims, the work we do is designed to maximize our clients’ compensation.

Depending on the facts of your case, you may be entitled to compensation for:

  • Past medical bills
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost wages or lost financial support
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium and emotional injuries
  • Other economic and non-economic losses

Learn more about your rights and legal options.

Examples of Our Results

SWMW Law has successfully litigated asbestos cases in courts across the country and has recovered millions in compensation for workers and families harmed by occupational asbestos exposure. This includes petrochemical and refinery workers, industrial workers, and many others in at-risk occupations.

Some examples of our results include:

  • $7.5 million settlement for a union pipefitter from Missouri diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • $6 million settlement for a union steamfitter diagnosed with mesothelioma. 
  • $3.2 million settlement for an Oklahoma laborer diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • $675,000 settlement for a California shipyard and refinery worker diagnosed with smoking lung cancer. 

Call For a FREE Consultation: (855) 744-1922

At SWMW Law, our trial lawyers have dedicated their careers to helping victims and families in the fight against corporations that care more about profits than people. Backed by a century of collective experience, we have helped clients take on powerful defendants in courts across the country and have helped countless victims and families secure the justice and compensation they deserved. 

If you have questions about an asbestos claim involving past work in the petrochemical or refinery industry, call (855) 744-1922 or contact us online for a FREE consultation.

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