Asbestos, a mineral used extensively throughout the 20th century as an insulating and fireproofing component in building materials and consumer products, has been recognized as a dangerous carcinogen. This means that many people have been unwittingly put at risk for asbestos cancer mesothelioma simply by working in environments where asbestos was prevalent. This includes factories, shipyards and oil refineries.
Since crude oil and its various petroleum products, such as gasoline, are extremely flammable, asbestos was used as insulation in virtually every piece of oil-refinery equipment. Some of this equipment included pipes, tanks, ovens, driers, furnaces, pumps, exchangers, boilers and roasters. It also included protective gear and tools. Any time these pieces of equipment were damaged, repaired, worn out or replaced, the microscopic fibers from the asbestos insulation could have been released into the air.
Unfortunately, working with or near asbestos often leads to inhalation of the microscopic fibers, which can lead to contracting asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Studies have shown that a much higher percentage of oil-refinery employees are diagnosed with these diseases when compared with the general population.
These conditions, especially mesothelioma, are extremely difficult to accurately diagnose, for several reasons. First, mesothelioma can lie dormant in the body for up to 50 years. Then, when it starts to become symptomatic, those symptoms are often mistaken for common respiratory ailments, such as emphysema or bronchitis. These warning signs can include chest pain, difficulty breathing, a raspy or wheezing cough, a persistent cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath or just fatigue. Sadly, it's uncommon to detect mesothelioma in its early stages, when it is easier to treat.
If you or someone you love has worked at an oil refinery, it is a good idea to make sure your doctor knows about your potential asbestos exposure. You should also monitor your health carefully and report any symptoms to your doctor as soon as you experience them.