The Risk of Asbestos Exposure During Chlorine Production

Throughout the twentieth century, manufacturers used asbestos. Many put it into thousands of products (from sheet gaskets to fireproof duct wrap). In the chemical industry, the threat of exposure to asbestos-containing material or the mineral itself is often high. For instance, processing chlorine gas involves the use of asbestos.

In the chlor-alkali industry, manufacturing parts like the diaphragm barrier consist mostly of asbestos. During the process, machines send an electrical current through liquid chlorine. Typically, in most of America’s largest chlorine plants, an asbestos-containing barrier separates gas positively and negatively charged gases into two compartments.

Since 2016, the chlorine industry is the only user of asbestos in mineral form in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the mineral is a known cancer-causing substance. As such, there are no completely safe uses of asbestos. Too, there is no safe level exposure – including for chlorine workers. Moreover, chlorine gas is a component of many plastic products, such as:

  • Epoxies
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polyurethane
  • PVC
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Vinyl upholstery and wallcovering

How Are Chemical Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

In 2002, the U.S. stopped mining asbestos. Afterward, industries like chlorine gas production imported the mineral from international sources. People working in chemical plants using imported mineral asbestos risked hazardous exposure.

Today, not all plants use asbestos-containing diaphragms in chlorine production. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found an unreasonable risk of workplace exposure to commercial chrysotile asbestos in America’s chlorine plants. After December 2020, the Agency moved to analyze and manage the risk to affected workers.

Usually, people working near asbestos-containing materials breathe in asbestos fibers too small to see. Moreover, the fibers can float in the air for days. Subsequently, many employees risk exposure without knowing it.

Generally, employees that handle products made with asbestos today are aware of the risk. Additionally, companies must legally take steps to protect workers from inhaling toxic particles (such as wearing personal protective gear over their mouth and nose).

Unfortunately, in the past, many companies failed to warn employees about the risks of asbestos exposure. Across several industries, men and women handled contaminated products. Normally, the worst exposure occurred among those working around loose asbestos dust. Yet, because there is no safe level of exposure, long-term health problems (like cancer) are a risk for workers in any asbestos-related field.

Asbestos-caused Cancer Risk for Chlorine Workers

Typically, if you worked in the chemical industry, you have a risk for occupational cancers. Yet, certain types of cancer are linked to asbestos exposure. For instance, a history of exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma cancer. Other asbestos-caused cancers chlorine workers risk developing include:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Stomach cancer

In most cases, exposure to asbestos-containing materials doesn’t produce symptoms for years. Normally, no immediate symptoms follow inhaling the fibers. However, some people develop asbestos-induced tumors 10 to 40 years after exposure.

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Diagnosis and Treatment

Every year, about 3,000 people in the U.S. receive a mesothelioma diagnosis. Yet, over 40,000 people die each year from diseases related to asbestos exposure. The timeline of asbestos-caused disease and internal damage often takes years. However, the longer an individual works in a high-risk field, the greater their chance of developing asbestos cancer.

On average, the age of a mesothelioma diagnosis is 72 years old.

Normally, symptoms depend on the location of growing tumors. Mesotheliomas can grow in the lining surrounding the lungs, the abdominal organs, the heart, and the testicles. In the chest, pleural mesotheliomas sometimes cause chest pain, fluid buildup, and/or shortness of breath. In the abdomen, peritoneal mesotheliomas cause gut pain, swelling, and bowel issues.

General, early signs of mesothelioma include:

  • Blood clotting problems
  • Feeling tired frequently
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Night sweats
  • Recurring fever

Commonly, symptoms that interrupt a patient’s normal routine or ability to live comfortably push them to visit the doctor. A physical examination and other diagnostic tests may indicate the presence of tumors. Lastly, doctors use a biopsy to test tissues for cancer cells before beginning treatment.

Treating cancer is different for every patient. Once diagnosed, a care team works with the patient to decide which route to take. Depending on the stage, one or a combination of the following treatments could be used:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy

Filing for Compensation and Trust Claims

Often, the latency period for developing asbestos-related diseases lasts decades. Consequently, most workers have already retired. Moreover, workers’ compensation protections no longer cover their work-related illnesses. For people with asbestos-related diseases, other resources are still available.

Initially, asbestos trust fund claims are an option for those with diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis. Next, those affected by exposure disease and their families may consider filing a lawsuit against the manufacturers. Only a qualified attorney can advise you on the steps for getting a mesothelioma settlement.

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