I received this article about the connection between mesothelioma cancer and oil refineries via email along with a request to share it. As we continue to rely on oil, some will face worse consequences than losing their shirts. The original article is posted below:

If you’ve been following the widespread coverage related to the upcoming election, you have likely been hearing about the rising cost of energy and the need for alternative sources of energy and fuel. At the surface, it may seem as though the energy debate is solely an economic issue, but when you become aware of the health and safety implications associated with the use of U.S. oil refineries, it is clear that this is a far bigger issue.

There are 150 operational refineries here in the U.S., all of which were built by 1976. At the time, refinery designers relied on asbestos-containing insulation to line the extensive piping that was necessary to the refinery process. In addition to insulation, asbestos was found in floor and ceiling tiles, as well as roofing tiles and even some brands of duct tape, and no one was really aware of the serious health consequences associated with the use of these asbestos products until the federal government instituted asbestos-usage regulations in the early 1980s. The regulations became necessary after researchers and medical professionals made a connection between asbestos exposure and the onset of respiratory diseases and other illnesses, including mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer that affects the mesothelioma, or lining of the body’s internal organs, specifically the heart, abdomen and lungs.

For oil refinery workers, the threat of these asbestos-related ailments is a very serious concern. Asbestos is not a health threat unless it has been damaged or disturbed and tiny asbestos fibers have become airborne, and when this occurs, workers are at risk of inhalation. If inhaled, the asbestos fibers (which have a claw-like structure) can cling to the pleural lining of the lungs for between 20 and 50 years before the individual may begin to experience common mesothelioma symptoms, such as respiratory difficulties and chest pain. Oil refinery workers are not the only individuals at risk as a result of asbestos use in U.S. refineries: consider the residents who live nearby to an oil refinery as well. If there is a fire or an explosion, asbestos fibers can be transferred to other locations several miles away via wind currents, and nearby residents (including young children) may inhale the errant fibers without ever knowing it.

The threat of mesothelioma (also known as asbestos cancer) is a very serious issue for oil refinery workers. In the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav and Ike, it has become an even bigger issue, as many workers will return to work at flood-damaged refineries where they may be exposed to airborne asbestos. When we consider the health implications of domestic oil refinery operations, in addition to the economic concerns, it becomes obvious that now, more than ever, we must consider alternative sources of energy (wind power, solar power) and other sources of fuel (ethanol). If we eliminate a need for domestic oil, we will no longer need operating refineries, and we will essentially be working towards a decrease in workers who may be exposed to asbestos and will eventually develop mesothelioma cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses.

For additional information regarding the environmental effects of U.S. oil refineries and asbestos-related disease, please visit the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center.