ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
Although Wyoming ranks low for total number of asbestos-related deaths, the state's mesothelioma incidence rate is among the nation's highest. Wyoming is one of six states where more than 20 people out of every million die from mesothelioma each year. Many of these deaths may be the result of occupational exposure to asbestos at one of Wyoming's many industrial worksites, such as refineries, power plants and mines.
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Wyoming’s vermiculite processing plants also put workers in danger of developing mesothelioma or other serious illnesses, such as asbestosis and lung cancer. Contaminated materials from the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana, were shipped to four vermiculite processing plants in Wyoming. More than 8,851 tons of Libby’s asbestos-tainted vermiculite were “exfoliated” by refinery workers at these plants, where they were responsible for transporting, heating, packaging and shipping the mineral.
Refinery workers at these plants transported and heated 8,851 tons of Libby’s asbestos-tainted vermiculite in a process known as exfoliation. They also packaged and shipped the mineral.
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Wyoming’s abundant petroleum sources made it a hotspot for refineries. Workers at these refineries often worked with high-temperature machines that were insulated with asbestos. Construction workers who repaired these facilities may have come in contact with contaminated tiles, panels or insulation.
Power station workers were also at an elevated risk for inhaling asbestos. Refineries and power plants were often built using the mineral or were home to various forms of asbestos insulation, and the workers faced exposure threats when fixing damaged machinery or renovating the buildings.
Commercial asbestos mining in Wyoming peaked between 1905 and 1921. Casper Mountain was the largest such mine in the state, producing fibers of more than an inch in length. More than half of the material in the serpentine deposits at Casper Mountain was asbestos.
The Fire King deposit specialized in producing chrysotile blocks for chimneys, while Smith Creek and Casper Mountain’s asbestos was primarily shipped to flooring manufacturers.
Frontier Oil and Sinclair Oil are two prominent oil refineries in Wyoming. The refineries, both built prior to the 1970s, used asbestos during construction. Over the decades, the workplaces exposed countless individuals to the hazardous fiber.
Coal refineries were also scattered across the state. Like oil refineries, these facilities were home to large quantities of asbestos-insulated equipment.
Vermiculite refineries were also a significant part of Wyoming’s industrial economy. Four refineries received shipments of Libby’s contaminated vermiculite. Workers at these refineries handled as many as 221 shipments of vermiculite from the W.R. Grace mine.
Black Hills Power’s facility in Osage was constructed with asbestos insulation around its boilers. Anyone who worked for the company prior to 1993 may have been exposed to the toxic mineral. By 1993, however, the company had completed an abatement project. Although some encapsulated asbestos was left in place, the facility was deemed safe.
Similarly, PacifiCorp‘s Dave Johnston Power Plant was built with asbestos insulation surrounding the boiler machinery. In 2007, the company began installing air pollution control equipment to help reduce the risk of exposure to various contaminants.
As with many private buildings constructed before the 1980s, the University of Wyoming was built with contaminated materials. In 2009 the college was issued a violation by the Department of Environmental Quality for failing to conduct asbestos inspections and remove asbestos-contaminated materials before demolishing several campus buildings. As a result, asbestos-containing materials were scattered during the demolition.
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