Pipefitters often had to install asbestos cement pipe for sewer, water, or chemical piping. They may also have come in contact with asbestos gaskets and packing for industrial valves, pumps and other process equipment.
As pipefitters regularly worked around other tradesmen, such as machinists, insulators, boiler makers, bricklayers, and other construction workers, they would likewise be exposed to asbestos containing products used by those workers, such as:
Refineries were a common work site where pipefitters could have experienced a high level of asbestos exposure. These plants are a maze of distillation plants, furnaces, reactor units, heat exchangers, tanks, boilers and cooling towers – all interwoven by a network of pipelines, valves, wires, ducts, and pumps. One enormous structure common to many refineries is a catalytic cracking unit, or “cat cracker,” which distills crude oil into gasoline using high temperature heat exchangers, boilers, heaters and pumps. For years, these structures were treated with high temperature resistant asbestos insulation, gaskets, packing material and other asbestos-building products.
Cat crackers and other refinery structures became especially dangerous worksites during routine maintenance shutdowns or “turnarounds,” when asbestos materials were torn out and disturbed, exposing workers, contractors, and even their family members through second-hand asbestos exposure.