Resources for Patients and their Families

Oil Refinery Workers at Risk to Develop Mesothelioma

Oil Refinery Workers

Oil refineries are extensive and expansive facilities upon which large amounts of piping connect widely spread manufacturing and industrial buildings and processing units. Many of these units chemically process crude oil into a variety of products and materials including fuel (diesel, gasoline, kerosene, and aircraft), liquid petroleum gas (LPG), lubricating oils, paraffin wax, nylon, plastics, tar and asphalt.

The first oil well was drilled by "Colonel" Edwin L. Drake in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859 - coincidentally the same year in which the first gasoline-powered internal combustion engine was developed in France. The first oil refinery was built in 1862, and the advent and increasing popularity of the automobile industry at the turn of the 19th century assured that both oil and gas would be much in demand throughout the 20th century and beyond. In World War I, oil's importance was underscored when Germany's coal-powered fleet was overtaken by Allied oil-powered battleships, and in World War II high-octane gasoline developed in 1930's refineries once again helped Allied planes outmaneuver those of the Germans.

The development of long-distance pipelines in 1942 resulted in crude oil and other liquid hydrocarbons being transported mostly via pipe as opposed to the long-used method of railway tankcar transport. By the 1960's, oil refineries were providing product not only to the automotive world but to commercial jets as well. However, due to strict legislation resulting from several environmental incidents in the 1970's, no major refinery has been constructed in the United States since 1976; but numerous existing refineries have been expanded since that time. As of 2006, there are 144 operational US refineries processing about seventeen million barrels of oil per day.

Oil Refinery Workers Are Frequently Exposed to Asbestos on the Job

Oil refineries are often very complex facilities and can employ a wide range of highly skilled tradespeople to work on their multifaceted operations. Equipment must often be built, installed, maintained and/or repaired on site, and thus everyone from engineers and electricians to pump system operators, boilermakers, pipefitters, millwrights, gaugers, ironworkers and welders must work together to ensure each facilities' continued functionality. Unfortunately, these trades are the ones most at risk for developing asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma and other cancers through on the job exposure and inhalation of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) because the equipment that they work on and or the cutting, sawing and sanding processes that they perform contain or create asbestos fibers. And even those oil refinery workers who aren't employed in the above-mentioned trades are at risk due to their on-site proximity to potentially harmful airborne asbestos.

In 1994, a comprehensive study said, "exposure to asbestos in oil refineries causes pleural mesothelioma. This is the first study to find an excess of pleural mesothelioma cases among oil refinery workers exposed to asbestos." The scientists spearheading the study went on to conclude that "pleural mesotheliomas should be considered an occupational disease among oil refinery workers since the use of asbestos has been widespread in this industry and many of the workers share the same environment."

In 2005, another study undertaken by the same scientists expanded its results to include lung tumors, revealing that 96-100% of the mesotheliomas and 42-49% of the lung tumors of these workers were directly linked to asbestos exposure. This study, they said, confirmed previously-published findings on the "magnitude of asbestos-related tumors in oil refineries."

Oil Refinery Workers Use a Wide Range of Asbestos Products

Since there are so many different and specialized occupations working at each oil refinery facility, the list of toxic materials utilized on site is long and varied. Also, due to the fact that the harmful effects of asbestos fiber inhalation were not widely known until the second half of the twentieth century, many of these materials contained asbestos and, as cited above, can sadly correlate strongly with the development of asbestos-related disease. Some of the asbestos-containing materials (ACM) used at oil refineries include (but are not limited to) the following products and manufacturers:

Asbestos Paper, Millboard and Rollboard

Armstrong World Industries Accopac Asbestos Paper, Carey Asbestos Paper, Carey Duct-Asbestos Insulation, GAF Ruberoid Asbestos Millboard, GAF Asbestos Rollboard, Flat Corrugated Asbestos Paper, Manville Asbestos Paper Products, Keasbey & Mattison K&M APAC Board, Keene Corporation Keene Asbestos Paper, National Gypsum Company Gold Bond Asbestos-Faced Mineral Board, Raymark Paper, and United States Gypsum Company USG Asbestos Paper

Electrical Products

Atlas Turner Monobestos, Manville Electrical Products, Raymark/Raytech/Raybestos Master Size Elastomer-Coated Asbestos Sleeve, Raymark Cable Filler, and United States Gypsum Company USG Thermalux (Generic)

Pipe Covering and Block

Armstrong World Industries Nonpareil High Pressure Covering Block, Atlas Turner Aircell, Atlas Turner Finecell, Atlas Turner Pipe, Atlas Turner Simplex, Atlas Turner Newtherm, Carey Pipe Insulation, Carey Lennolite, Carey Super-Light 85% Magnesia, Celotex Defendex Pipe Covering, Celotex Excel PB (Piping and Block), Celotex Fyrex P, Celotex Glosscell PB, Eagle Picher 85% Magnesia Pipe Cover, Fibreboard Pabco 85% Magnesia, Keasbey & Mattison K&M Pipe Insulation, K&M Hy-Temp Blocks, Keene Ehret Pipe Covering, Durant Insulated Pipe Covering, Keene Corporation Endure Pipe Covering Block & Cement, Keene (Ehret) 85% Magnesia, Keene Mono-Block, Keene Corporation Thermalite, Keene Corporation Thermasil, Keene Corporation Mundet, MH Detrick Griptex, M.H. Detrick Block Insulation, National Gypsum Company Flexfelt, National Gypsum Company Asbestos Jackets for Pipecovering, Owens-Corning Kaylo Insulation, United States Gypsum Company USG Pipecoverings, United States Gypsum Company Pyrobestos PC Board & Stack Lining, USG Corrugated Cool Felt Air C. Covering, USG Rigid Block Insulations (Generic), UNR Industries, Inc./Unarco Custom Tailored High T. Insulation, Unibestos #1200 (black), Unibestos Insulation Blocks and Unibestos Sectional Pipe Insulation

Cement/Plastic Pipe

Atlas Turner Pipe, Manville Piping Products

Refractory Products

Babcock & Wilcox Refractory Products, Celotex Corporation DE No. 85 Block, Celotex Corporation DE No. 95 Block, Celotex Corporation Vercel Block, Harbison-Walker Chromepak G, Harbison-Walker/Dresser Guidon, Harbison-Walker/Dresser H-W 16-76, Harbison-Walker/Dresser H-W Lightweight Castable, Harbison-Walker/Dresser Metalkase Chromex B, Harbison-Walker/Dresser Metalkase H-W 31-73, Harbison-Walker/Dresser Micacrete 7, Harbison-Walker/Dresser Oxibak H, Kaiser K-N Plastic Chrome Ore, K&M Styrex Asbestos Panels, NARCO Aerogun, NARCO Anti-Erode, NARCO BOF-Cote, NARCO BOF-Patch, NARCO CM Gun Mix, NARCO CM-18 Gun Mix, NARCO MC-Gun Mix, Narcocast Es Fine Trowel, Narcocrete Trowel, Narcogan MCD-344, Narcogun CM-343, Narcolite, NARCO Narmag 60 DBRC, NARCO Narcmag OH Gun Mix, NARCO Super 505 Hot Gun C, NARCO WO-339 McGun, NARCO Staz-on Cement, NARCO Uni-Cote Cement, Plibrico Plisulate Insulation, Quigley Insulag, Quigley Insuline, Quigley Insulbox, Quigley Panelag, Quigley Panelbond, and Quigley Panels

Oil Refinery Workers Exposed to Asbestos Can Develop Mesothelioma and Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Frequently, much time elapses from the end of asbestos exposure to the onset of symptoms from an asbestos-related disease. lung cancer sometimes does not occur until ten years after a person was exposed to asbestos, and it can take up to fifty years for asbestosis and mesothelioma to present. Further complicating matters is the fact that initial symptoms are sometimes misdiagnosed and dismissed as everyday ailments. The long latency period and incorrect diagnoses contribute to a poor overall survival rate for mesothelioma patients.

A more widely known and accepted connection between asbestos exposure and pulmonary diseases such as mesothelioma cancer, asbestosis and lung cancer became apparent in the 1970's. This was particularly applicable to workers who had extensive exposure to asbestos dust and fibers in an occupational setting. Even so, many manufacturers and employers covered up or otherwise downplayed the connection, and thus oil refinery workers frequently continued their labors without adequate knowledge or precaution in a dangerous and possibly deadly environment.

Here follows a more-detailed examination of asbestos-related illnesses:

Pleural Mesothelioma and Peritoneal Mesothelioma

As it often takes thirty to fifty years or more for asbestos inhalation to result in disease, this seldom-seen and very severe form of cancer is unfortunately becoming a more familiar diagnosis for oil refinery workers and their family members (who may have experienced secondhand exposure from fibers workers carried home on their clothes, hair and tools). Since the only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos-containing materials (ACM), workers who were on oil refineries in the 50's, 60's and 70's are just beginning to struggle with the breathing problems, chest pains, and (sometimes blood-producing) coughs which are often symptoms of occupational lung disease. Mesothelioma mainly occurs in the lining of the lungs (also known as the pleura), but can also be found in the linings of the abdomen (peritoneum i.e peritoneal mesothelioma) or heart (pericardium i.e. pericardial mesothelioma). Loss of appetite, unplanned weight loss, weakness and fatigue are other common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma. This aggressive disease has been known to metastasize and spread to other areas in the body.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

As opposed to mesothelioma, lung cancer can develop from exposure to substances other than asbestos. However, a smoker who has been exposed to asbestos has up to a 90 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer over non-smokers who have been exposed to asbestos. It should also be noted that Kent cigarettes used asbestos in its filters from 1952 to 1956. Lung Cancer is deemed asbestos-related lung cancer when underlying asbestosis (lung tissue scarring) or pleural plaques are present.


Asbestosis is a condition in which built up scar tissue in the lung area causes severe breathing problems and lowered blood flow. Like with mesothelioma, asbestosis is also caused solely by asbestos exposure.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari