The Petrochemical and Refinery Industry

Also referred to as oil and gas, the petrochemical refinery industry is integral to maintaining a competitive U.S. economy. As the demand for petrochemical products only continues to rise, the demand further stimulates job creation, industry expansion, and the flourishing of a multitude of other connected industries. For example, the energy industry is sustained by approximately 76,000 thousand miles of crude oil pipelines, one-third of which were installed before 1960.

Approximately 140 petroleum refineries are operated in the U.S., which, when combined, distill crude oil at a rate of 18.6 million barrels a day.
This is an image showing a statistic regarding petrochemical and refinery industry.
Petrochemical refinery industry trades do come with health and environmental risks. The operations at refineries and processing plants can release hazardous chemicals and air pollutants like smog and asbestos into the air and environment, potentially having a detrimental effect on the air and water quality and the health of those working or living around these toxic air pollutants.

Sites that could be affected by contamination include:

  • Extraction
  • Processing
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Maintenance
  • Demolition
  • Waste Removal

Asbestos Risk in the Industry

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral widely used in many U.S. industries as well as the petrochemical and refinery industry for decades before the 1970s (some even longer than that). This was because the mineral was resistant to fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion, so it was incorporated into many insulation materials and building structures. The 1970s were when researchers discovered that prolonged asbestos exposure was causing cancer in workers who had been exposed to high enough amounts.

Lung cancer and mesothelioma are common diseases that can develop from extended exposure to the mineral. This toxin also takes many years to form tumors within a person due to a long latency period. Sometimes it can take a person 30 or 40 years after exposure to develop lung cancer, making it more complicated to pinpoint the cause of illness.

If you go to a doctor and receive an official medical diagnosis for an asbestos-related illness, they’ll be able to help you better assess the cause, give you a prognosis, and develop a lung cancer treatment plan.

Petrochemical and Refinery Industry Trades at Risk

Some trades are more likely to be affected by toxins that cause lung cancers than others. Petrochemical and refinery workers have a higher risk of exposure to the pollutants during specific tasks. These encompass installing, repairing, and maintaining pipe insulation materials, ceiling and floor tiles, heat exchangers, diesel units, valves, gaskets, crude oil columns, and other insulating materials.

The mineral was a common material in many insulation products for decades. Maintenance workers are primarily affected and have the highest risk of health abnormalities. Other trades at risk of exposure include:

Chemical Engineer

Design chemical plant equipment and create a chemical manufacturing process for gasoline, synthetic rubbers, plastics, detergents, cement, paper, and pulp. They do this by harnessing their comprehensive intellect in technology, chemistry, physics, and engineering.

Derrick Operator

Operate pumps and rig derrick equipment in an effort to circulate through drill holes for oil.


Service crude oil and natural gas wells by rigging up and down, pulling and laying down rods, tubing, and casting.


Gauge and test oil in storage tanks. This is to determine and manage the optimal flow of oil and other petroleum products into pipelines at wells, tank farms, refineries, and marine and rail terminals by adhering to standard operating procedures.


Evaluate the composition, structure, and other physical aspects of earth elements, gases, minerals, and liquids. Petrochemical and refinery industry geoscientists use their learned physics, mathematics, and geology knowledge to explore oil, gas, minerals, underground water, waste disposal, land reclamation, or navigating environmental issues.

Rotary Drilling Operator

Operate multiple drills designed to remove oil and gas from deep under the ground. Rotary drill operators also extract samples for testing.

Petroleum Engineer

Develop procedures for improving the extraction and production processes for oil and gas projects. Petroleum engineers also assess the need for new or adjusted tool designs, manage drilling operations, and offer technical consultation when needed.

Plumber, Pipefitter, Steamfitter

Build, install, adjust, and fix pipelines or pipe systems that carry water, steam, air, or other gases/liquids. They also install heating and cooling equipment and control systems.

Pump Operator

Maintain, manage, and operate power-driven, portable, or stationary pumps and manifold systems that relocate gases, oil, and other materials around vessels and processes.

Refinery Operator

Control the refining or processing of petroleum units. May control manifold and pumping systems, gauge and test storage tanks, or adjust pipeline flow.


Construct and maintain oil field equipment by utilizing hand or power tools. They also help other trades with tasks when necessary.

Service Unit Operator

Use equipment to help increase the flow of oil from producing wells. Service unit operators also help remove stuck pipes, casing tools, or other blockages in drilling wells. They also aid with mining exploration.

Wellhead Pumpers

Employ power pumps and related equipment to produce the flow of oil or gas from oil field wells.

Asbestos Laws and Regulations

Since asbestos was classified as a carcinogen, laws and regulations directing the production, distribution, and proper removal of asbestos in the petrochemical refinery industry were passed to protect workers who fell ill from exposure to toxins.

Asbestos laws are meant to create accountability within industries. Primarily aimed towards the owners and managers of building structures, tools, materials, equipment, and work sites containing dangerous levels of asbestos. It’s their responsibility to enforce adequate asbestos removal before allowing employees or residents to enter the area.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was one such agency to pass the NESHAP (National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants) to better enforce the handling of asbestos in the workplace or public structure.

Think You Were Exposed to Asbestos at Work?

If you’ve worked in the petrochemical refinery industry or at any of the above listed or similar trades, have been diagnosed with lung cancer (or other asbestos-caused condition), and believe it was from exposure at the workplace, you could be entitled to financial compensation from the companies responsible for the exposure.

Once you’ve received a diagnosis, talk with an experienced attorney about the details of your potential legal case. You could use the money to help pay for cancer treatment, loss of job due to illness, family support, and other costs associated with developing a debilitating illness.