Drilling Rig Workers and Engineers at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight the extreme risk posed to those involved in the oil industry, particularly drilling rig workers and mud engineers. Since the 1960s, asbestos has been added to drilling mud in onshore and offshore oil well operations, causing many workers to develop such life-threatening disease as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and pulmonary lung disease.

Asbestos was banned by the U.S. government in the 1970s, however, offshore oil companies considered themselves exempt from these laws, and continued to add asbestos into oil drilling mud until at least 1989. Because of its resistance to heart and degeneration, asbestos was used to help cool the drill bits and wash out debris from well holes during drilling. Additionally, due to its bonding capabilities, pure asbestos fibers were also used as an additive in drilling mud.

As a result, many drilling mud engineers and rig workers were exposed to asbestos, unaware of its presence and dangers to their health. Asbestos-containing drilling mud was used abundantly, particularly in Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and North and South Dakota. In addition to the oil drilling mud exposure, asbestos-containing materials were often used to insulate the clothing of oil workers because of the extreme fire danger associated with oil field work. If this protective gear wore out or was torn, asbestos could release into the air and expose anyone who was in contact with it, including family members.

Asbestos-related diseases take an extended amount of time to develop, typically between 20 and 50 years. Because of this, many oil workers are only now realizing the fatal consequences of their exposure, and subsequently filing asbestos drilling mud lawsuits across the country.

What is so devastating about these cases is that most workers had no idea they were being exposed to a toxic chemical, although the oil companies were well informed of the potentially fatal risks. Many workers can recall mixing a flakey white substance from a 50-pound bag into the drilling mud as part of their jobs, never being told to use any respiratory safety equipment. Even more troubling is that many of these workers’ clothing was contaminated with asbestos, and exposed their wives and families to the substance when they came home from work.

Most of these 50-pound bags of asbestos drilling mud brands were sold by two brands: Visbestos and Flosal. Both companies were sold and joined other companies throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, and both have been named as a defendant in numerous asbestos exposure lawsuits, and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003. Although many of the original asbestos manufacturers were bought out, the liabilities and claims against those companies then transferred to the new company. Thus, lawsuits can still be brought against the numerous asbestos manufacturers, distributers, and sellers. Lawsuits may also be filed against offshore employers via maritime laws and the Jones Act.

Under the Jones Act, workers on offshore oil platforms and other maritime vessels can file an asbestos lawsuit directly against their employer, rather than having to file against the manufacturers or distributers. The Jones Act applies only to those employees who worked offshore or on drilling barges in water.

Many onshore oil workers have successfully filed asbestos exposure lawsuits as well. The widow of one worker was recently awarded $1.2 million in a settlement after her husband was diagnosed with and died from mesothelioma. He was a member of the cement crew at Dowell Company between 1975 and 1985. In another case, a jury awarded an oil industry worker $15 million after he was diagnosed with asbestosis. He was exposed to the susbstance through years of handling bags of product that contained about 99% asbestos. His claim was filed against Conoco Philips, alleging that the company knowingly manufactured an exceedingly dangerous product.

Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge anyone who worked in the oil industry and developed an asbestos-related disease to contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible. As stated, asbestos fibers could have attached to workers’ clothing and infected not only the workers but their families as well. Through an asbestos exposure lawsuit, you may be entitled to significant compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

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