Mesothelioma: a little known side effect of fossil fuel use

by EcoStreet on September 10, 2008

in Toxic World

This is a guest post by Samantha Catalano, a Public Outreach Coordinator for the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center. Ms. Catalano coordinates the writing, preparation and distribution of informational materials, including articles related to occupational asbestos exposure, mesothelioma cancer and more. For further information, or to contact Ms. Catalano about informational materials, please email

We’re all well aware of the need to live “greener” and reduce our environmental impact. In an effort to do so, we all need to consider decreasing our reliance on fossil fuel and utilizing alternative sources of energy, such as solar or geothermal. There are approximately 150 operating oil refineries in 32 U.S. states, and the North Sea area of the UK is also home to 9 major onshore refineries and over 300 offshore facilities. All of these refineries are harboring a hidden danger in the form of asbestos that is affecting the heath of refinery workers and nearby residents. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to the eventual development of pleural mesothelioma, a fatal type of cancer.

The last U.S. refinery was built in 1976, about four years before the Environmental Protection Agency first instituted asbestos regulations. Until then, asbestos was a popular construction material because it was an extremely efficient insulator. Because of this, oil refinery piping often contained asbestos insulation. However, asbestos may be found in other materials within oil refineries, including roofing and floor tiles and drywall.

The UK refineries, including a BP-owned facility in Dorset, which is the largest in Europe, also harbor asbestos-containing materials. In fact, these UK refineries often ship crude oil products to the US on ships which may also be laden with asbestos insulation, presenting an even greater concern. The elaborate pipeline distribution method that has been implemented in the UK may also be a concern, since these extensive pipes must be insulated with some form of heat-retardant material.

Because the refining process involves high heat and combustible liquids, the likelihood of fire and explosion is high. Along with the obvious environmental and safety consequences of a fire or explosion, there is also the concern of asbestos fibers becoming airborne, putting oil refinery workers at risk of inhalation. If inhaled, the small fibers can cling to the pleural lining of the lungs for decades before an individual may experience common mesothelioma symptoms, such as the presence of fluid inside the lung cavity.

Oil refinery workers are at a heightened risk of developing this fatal type of cancer, but so are the residents who live nearby oil refineries. Consider the explosions at two separate Texas refineries in 2005 and 2007, as well as refinery explosions in the UK in those same years: not only were the oil refinery workers at risk of inhalation, but nearby residents faced the potential of inhaling asbestos fibers that traveled via wind current from the refinery to their homes. What is most disturbing for parents is that the latent period associated with mesothelioma cancer is between 20 and 50 years, so a child who inhales asbestos may never know until they receive a mesothelioma diagnosis in their thirties or forties. There are various mesothelioma treatment options, but there is no cure.

It is imperative that we understand all of the implications of fossil fuel use, including the dangers of asbestos present within oil refineries. By utilizing alternative sources of energy, we may one day be able to close our world’s oil refineries and greatly reduce the number of hardworking individuals who are exposed to asbestos.

Photo credit: NARA/EPA via pingnews

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Shorr September 10, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Mesothelioma is a devastating illness, and you are right – surprisingly few people are aware of it. One of my closest friends died of mesothelioma in his early 50’s. He never smoked and was otherwise in perfect health his entire life. Mesothelioma also took Warren Zevon, the rock singer/songwriter, at an early age.


GreenOfficeBlog September 11, 2008 at 4:29 am

This is quite interesting. I knew that mesothelioma occurred as a result of prolonged exposure to asbestos, but I had no idea that fossil fuels were responsible for causing the condition as well. As with most dangerous products, it is always the workers closest to the substance that seem to be the worst off, which is really the sad part. It seems that our country would be much better off if we looked into alternative energy sources, rather than harmful fossil fuels.


Dennis September 28, 2008 at 1:54 pm

There is more to know about the folks from the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center. They currently seem to be doing an outreach campaign contacting environmentally related Blogs and getting them to post materials about mesothelioma & asbestos.

Check it out:

Some of their infomation is good but I don’t believe they are being completly up-front about who they are and who they represent.


Stephen Fish October 11, 2008 at 6:31 am

You say “may” be lined with Asbestos that leaves a big void in you article. That fact is that most of these sites that refine oil have gone through major up grades over the past 40 year to bring them into compliance with federal regulations. The US department of energy and Labor have brought these new rules of regulation to the industry. It is this miss guided information that causes people to have unnecessary fear.
As for other nations that is a different matter as they are not under the same rule or guide line.


Largine December 10, 2008 at 2:05 pm

I had no idea that fossil fuels were responsible for causing the condition as well.


Kerry L. December 23, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Please remove this entry … this is blatant attorney advertising. The MAACenter (if you check out their site) is sponsored by a law firm. The fact that these snakes even come up with titles like “Public Outreach Coordinator” as if they’re serving the public interest really makes me mad.



mesothelioma July 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Asbestos doesn’t seem to go away. While we know it causes Mesothelioma, little is being done to end exposure.


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