Veterans Assistance

Chemical Plant Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

Mesothelioma is a cancer that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure. For over a century now, documented scientific evidence has shown that breathing asbestos fibers can lead to bad respiratory health. More recently, the link to mesothelioma was made. In fact, around 90 percent of all cases of mesothelioma have a proven, direct link to asbestos exposure. Still, despite knowing about the adverse health effects of asbestos, many companies chose to use it for decades, mining it, processing it, and installing it into hundreds of thousands of homes, schools and office buildings across the country.

The cancer affects the mesothelium - the thin tissue that lines the heart, lungs, and abdominal cavity. Tiny, airborne asbestos fibers can be inhaled or swallowed, and can lodge themselves in and around the lungs and mesothelium. There, they can induce changes in the structure and behavior of the cells of the mesothelium, and can turn them into cancerous cells. They begin to divide uncontrollably, and form a deadly tumor that can invade essential organs and interfere with their functioning.

Asbestos is the term given to a variety of naturally occurring, fibrous minerals. These minerals come in variety of colors and chemical makeup, but they all have similar physical characteristics. The fibers, which are microscopic in size, tend to be either long and needle-like or soft and curly in shape. They are extremely durable, have very high resistances to heat and electricity, and can withstand wear by acids and other corrosives.

For these reasons, for many decades, asbestos was considered to be an ideal construction material, especially for chemical plants. Many chemical plants used asbestos-containing materials to insulate pipes, heat exchangers, furnaces, pumps, wires, extruders, and boilers. Asbestos was also used in tiles and bench-tops for lab desks. Furthermore, it could be woven into fireproof materials and worn to protect workers.

Unfortunately, this put many chemical plant workers at risk for exposure to asbestos, and thus at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos is not a danger while it is left alone and in good shape, however, if it is disturbed or moved in any way, fibers can break off and become airborne. Also, if the asbestos insulation deteriorates due to extreme conditions or age, it can also release fibers into the air. This is all very likely in a chemical plant, where workers are cutting pieces of insulation to fit their needs, and very high pressures are often used to perform dangerous chemical reactions.

If you ever worked in a chemical plant and you were in the vicinity of any product that you suspect of containing asbestos to improve its insulation or durability, you should keep a close eye on the health of your lungs. Any sign of lung disease may mean that an asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma, is starting to take hold. You should schedule regular appointments with your doctor, so that if you do develop mesothelioma, he or she can diagnose it quickly. An early diagnosis will almost always translate to a better prognosis.


Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Sun July 26, 2020