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Oil Refinery Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

Oil refineries are factories that process and refine crude oil. Dangerous and extremely flammable workplaces, which produce a number of oil and petroleum products including gasoline, heating oil, diesel and kerosene, the refineries have long been equipped with various asbestos-containing materials in order to protect against fires and extreme heat.

Asbestos is the generic term for a group of organic mineral compounds. Although there are various kinds of asbestos that can be found across the globe, all of them have in common a remarkable ability to resist heat and fire, as well as high tensile strength, flexibility and durability. Asbestos is resistant to electrical conductivity and is also well known for its ability to remain stable under the varied pressures of a number of chemical and biological processes. It is also non-corrosive.

Moreover, asbestos can be integrated into a number of construction and industrial admixtures and products, thereby increasing the strength and fireproof qualities of those products. Asbestos can even be woven into cloth, in order to make protective clothing such as gloves, aprons, and suits.

There is a danger associated with asbestos, however, and its name is mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that is nearly exclusively caused by asbestos dust, which can be inhaled, and the particulate of which can embed itself into the lungs and other soft tissues of the body, such as the mesothelium - a lining of the organs and chest cavity. The asbestos particulate can then cause the mesothelial cells to divide and metastasize, leading to an eventual diagnosis of the rare but aggressive cancer mesothelioma.

This diagnosis may not come until decades after the individual was first exposed to asbestos - up to 50 years in some cases. Although the chance of developing mesothelioma do increase with prolonged and/or repeated asbestos exposure, experts agree that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

Additionally, mesothelioma can be contracted simply through close proximity to or contact with someone else who has worked in an asbestos-contaminated environment. Children or spouses of those who have worked either directly or indirectly with asbestos may therefore also be at risk for developing this form of cancer.

The symptoms of mesothelioma are often indistinguishable from the symptoms of other, more common respiratory ailments, such as bronchitis and emphysema. These symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, chest pain, and a persistent cough, may even be mistaken for the effects of a bout with influenza. For that reason, patients often don't see their health care provider for a checkup until the symptoms - and the underlying cancer - have worsened. There are very few mesothelioma patients who are eligible for surgery, because surgery to remove a tumor from the area around the lungs can only be attempted during Stage I, and most mesothelioma diagnoses are in Stage III or Stage IV.

At this point, palliative care - chemotherapy and radiation to improve symptoms, thoracentesis to improve breathing function, and pain medication - may be the only options available. Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive cancers there is, and patients typically live only an average of 18 months after their diagnosis.

If you, or anyone you love, has worked in an oil refinery, it's important that you educate yourself about this tragic form of cancer, and that you let your doctor know about the possible exposure to asbestos that you may have experienced on the job.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

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

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013