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The Risks from Chemical Plants

Posted on January 31, 2022 in

Chemical plants and the modern American manufacturing industry go hand in hand. The products fabricated here and shipped out are everyday essentials to Americans, including everything from laundry detergents to auto petroleum.

But, behind all of the history and power of chemical plants, lurks the risks to the thousands of employees working daily at chemical production facilities – sometimes putting their lives on the line. 

Here is a closer look into the many hazards at a chemical plant that could lead to dangerous inhalation of toxic fumes, serious injury, possible fires or explosions, even death. 

The Dangerous Past of Asbestos Today

From the 1940s to the 1970s, asbestos was regularly used and considered one of the best insulators available to line high-temperature ovens, tanks, boilers, and pumps.

Today, asbestos materials remain in many chemical plants across the country, which is a continued risk to employees and residents living nearby. In fact, in February 2020, it was reported that debris from asbestos traveled 12 miles from a chemical plant explosion in Texas in November 2019.

When cut, ground, sawed, or worn, asbestos releases tiny fibers into the air, which are incredibly toxic. Regular exposure to asbestos can cause pulmonary distress and diseases, such as mesothelioma, a rare cancer. 

The Risks from Hazardous Materials

According to the EPA, chemical plants and petroleum refineries produce more than 2,200 pounds each month of hazardous wastes.

The risks of employees working in these conditions can result in skin infections, cancers, chemical burns, asthma and allergies, injuries to internal organs, even death. Exposure to hazardous materials can come in four forms:

  1. Gasses or vapors
  2. Liquids
  3. Dusts
  4. Solids

The hazardous materials used in chemical plants are heavily regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but, unfortunately, chemical plant workers still experience limited exposure. Here is a rundown of some of those materials that pose risks:

  • Ethylene oxide: Highly reactive and flammable, this chemical can cause reproductive problems, physical changes, and neurotoxicity with chronic exposure. Limited exposure can result in respiratory injuries and effects.
  • Formaldehyde: Commonly used to manufacture resins, this well-known human carcinogen can cause respiratory problems, eczema, and can be fatal with high levels of exposure. 
  • Benzene: Used in manufacturing rubber tires and plastics, benzene also appears in gasoline. High levels of exposure to this material can result in dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness. Workers with long-term exposure have developed adverse effects to blood production and bone marrow, even leukemia. 
  • 1,3-Butadiene: As the 36th most-produced chemical in the United States at three billion pounds each year, this chemical is used in petroleum refining, and plastics and synthetic rubber manufacturing. Risks of exposure are damages to the central nervous and cardiovascular systems, vertigo, blurred vision, and headaches. 
  • Hydrogen sulfide: Produced in oil and gas refining, hydrogen sulfide is one of the leading causes of death at the workplace from inhalation.

Protection for Chemical Plant Workers

OSHA and the EPA highly regulate chemical plants across the country that produce and use these hazardous materials. These factories are required to follow federal health and safety guidelines to protect workers’ safety and to ensure a healthy environment. Employers are also mandated to obey laws when producing, treating, disposing of, and transporting any hazardous materials for the safety of the general public. The Houston chemical plant explosion attorneys at The Doan Law firm can help you explore your legal actions in the event of exposure to hazardous materials.