"From what I am learning about mesothelioma now, it's scary," says Ron, who used to roughneck in southeast Oklahoma and Alaska. "I worked locally for the Rowan Drilling company and internationally for the Santa Fe drilling company—and in both companies we ran encapsulating polymer muds. We mixed asbestos into the drilling mud and the asbestos fibers, depending upon how many pounds per barrel (usually 4–6 lbs) made for a viscous drilling fluid, which enhances the carrying capacity of the drilling fluid. The asbestos thickens the mud because of all the little fingerling and curling fibers and it absorbs moisture but doesn't disintegrate. I mixed thousands of sacks of Flosal—one brand of asbestos drilling mud—for these drilling companies.
"I didn't pick up on the serious health problems caused by asbestos until I worked in the construction industry. And now, all the asbestos warnings we see on TV is like another part of the world for me because the media has focused on some industries but missed out on a huge chunk—the drilling industry. It was used to some extent in the Oil and Gas industry but asbestos was used regularly in drilling.
"In the drilling industry I was responsible for the make-up and maintenance of the drilling fluids on dozens of rigs. In those days—before OSHA was established in the US—we had no safety equipment; we didn't have face masks, we had nothing. Often we tied a handkerchief around our mouths or stood upwind so the asbestos fibers didn’t blow all over us.
"Knock on wood, I haven't had any problems—mixing asbestos into the drilling mud was just an aggravation, I had no idea it could be a death sentence. It's been a long time since I worked in the drilling industry and I drifted away from people I worked with so I have no idea who has suffered from asbestos-related diseases, but I'm sure many of my co-workers have succumbed.
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"It's unfortunate that asbestos is a killer, because it was the cat's meow in drilling mud. Once it is mixed and becomes water-wet, I think there is no risk, but it was the mixing of it, when the microscopic fibers become airborne. I know I've inhaled my fair share of asbestos fibers and I can only count myself lucky. However, I know that mesothelioma can sometimes take 30–40 years—I'm a prime candidate if there ever was one."