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Asbestos Drilling Mud Engineer Considers Himself "Lucky"

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Katy, TX"I started working on drilling rigs when I was sixteen and at that time I had no idea about the danger of asbestos," says Ron, age 66. "I was a mud engineer in the 1960s; I sat on drill hoppers and mixed 50-lb bags of Asbestos Drilling Mud long before I knew about asbestos-related diseases." But Ron knows he isn't out of the woods yet—mesothelioma can take decades to manifest.

"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.

"To be honest, I don't think the companies knew about asbestos dangers in the 1960s, with the exception of the usual dangers of inhalation. I think they discovered how dangerous it was when all the hoopla began in the late 1970s. And I don't even know if the companies I was familiar with, such as Drilling Specialties—the company that made Flosal—went out of business or went bankrupt.

"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."

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READER COMMENTS

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My father worker for that company years a go . I remember him comeing home his clothes would stand up by there self after he took them off he died from brain cancer .lung cancer mother died from lung cancer .all of his kids would go to the rig and stay on the sites with him . I would like to know if Ron might have worked with him. Are know him .

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