Chemical Plants and Asbestos
Chemicals make modern life possible, but it comes at the cost of injuries and deaths of plant workers. Asbestos-containing products were used in these Kentucky facilities until the late 1970s. Employees and contractors were exposed to toxic asbestos fibers over decades. Many contracted lung cancer and mesothelioma, which cut their lives short.
What is a Chemical Plant?
A chemical plant manufactures or processes chemicals on a large scale. Chemical plants use specialized technology, equipment, and units to produce the products customers buy. These facilities convert oil, natural gas, water, air, metals, and minerals into chemical products.
Chemicals are a major Kentucky industry employing 15,448 people at 213 facilities as of 2020, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Any chemical plants operating before the 1980s may have had asbestos products on the premises.
What is Asbestos? Why Was It Used?
Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber. It’s resistant to:
From the Industrial Revolution through the late 1970s, many industries used asbestos in thousands of products because of these properties. They were in homes, vehicles, aircraft, power plants, ships, and chemical plants.
Fibers come loose from products when they’re installed, disturbed, age, repaired, or replaced. These fibers are too small to see and light enough to float in the air for extended periods. Anyone in the area may swallow or inhale them.
Asbestos’ dark side is it’s highly toxic after fibers are ingested. If they are:
- Inhaled, they can cause severe breathing problems (asbestosis), lung cancer, and a deadly cancer of the membrane lining the lungs, chest cavity, and heart (pleural and pericardial mesothelioma)
- Swallowed, they can work their way through the digestive tract and cause a type of mesothelioma affecting the lining of abdominal organs and the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma)
Ironically, one of the main reasons asbestos insulation was first used was to protect workers from high temperatures and prevent workplace fires. But as decades passed, the medical community learned of asbestos’ dangers, but employers and those profiting from asbestos denied the truth for decades. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that asbestos was largely regulated off the market, though it’s still allowed in limited circumstances (including in some chemical plants).
Where was Asbestos Used in Chemical Plants?
Chemical plants often use heat as part of their processes, and these facilities carry a risk of fire. Using an inexpensive, strong, heat and fire-resistant material like asbestos to make a plant more efficient and safer was attractive to plant designers and owners.
Asbestos-containing insulation was used on equipment that could be very hot. Employees and contractors who insulated, maintained, repaired, and replaced these items had high asbestos exposure levels:
Asbestos was also used in walls and ceilings to make facilities more fire-resistant. Workers facing high heat or fire often used asbestos-containing safety equipment and clothing containing asbestos. Because asbestos is chemical-resistant, it was used in countertops and benches in onsite labs.
What Asbestos Dangers Do Chemical Plant Workers Face Now?
Any asbestos materials still present in a chemical plant pose a potential health threat. There’s currently no known safe asbestos exposure level. Old asbestos products can shed fibers as they deteriorate, poisoning the workplace.
Many older and retired chemical plant workers are diagnosed with asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesotheliomas caused by asbestos exposure decades ago. These cancers are painful, debilitating, expensive to treat, and nearly always fatal.
Decades of legal claims and litigation by victims of asbestos-related diseases have driven what used to be a massive asbestos industry out of business. These companies created trust funds now worth billions of dollars to get bankruptcy protection. This money is available to those who worked in the chemical industry and were harmed by asbestos.
Call Us Today For A Free Consultation
If you or a loved one worked at a chemical plant and are diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, Satterley & Kelley lawyers can answer your questions, discuss your rights to compensation, and how to protect them. You can reach our Louisville office by calling 502-589-5600 or toll-free at 855-385-9532. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.