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Asbestos Drilling Mud—Old Timer Weighs In

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Henley, TXLarry spent 40 years--half his life—working as a drilling mud engineer and later as a consultant for various oil and gas drilling rigs. You could say he is familiar with asbestos drilling mud. “Mentally I’m as good as I ever was, which isn’t saying much,” Larry says, laughing. “If I were any smarter I wouldn’t have been mixing asbestos.”

“I remember working offshore out of Galveston and using a lot of product called Flosal—we got it from a company called Drilling Specialties. I remember what the 50 lb bag looked like—it had the word Flosal on it but I don’t remember seeing the word asbestos.”

Larry (not his real name) is right. From 1963 through 1984, CPChem manufactured a product called Flosal, which contained 85-95 percent asbestos and was used as a drilling mud additive. The product was a viscosifier, and was used to increase the viscosity of (to thicken) drilling mud fluids. (A jury recently returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff Troy Lofton, who alleged he suffers asbestosis as a result of exposure to the defendant’s—formerly Drilling Specialties Company (“CPChem”)--product, Flosal.)

“No one ever told us about asbestos nor did we ever wear any safety equipment or gear,” says Larry, age 80. Most of his asbestos exposure occurred in the 60s, when he worked offshore for Shell and other big companies. “During that time the only safety equipment on offshore drilling rigs were eyewash stations, rubber aprons and goggles,” he says. “And we wore rubber gloves only when we mixed caustic soda, not asbestos mud.

“The bags of Flosal were white and powdery. We shipped the material, stacked on a pallet and transported it to the rig on a work boat. They would lift it on board with cranes, then it was lowered into the mud room. There was a mixing hopper in this room and we poured the material into the hopper, which in turn went into a pipe and into a mud pit—tanks that contained the drilling fluids, or mud.

"To mix these materials, you would turn on the hopper, cut the Flosal sack and a vacuum would suck it down. That is where all the dust occurred—as soon as you cut the sacks. I was often in the mud room, supervising. You could see asbestos in the air—it was dusty. The level of dust depended on how fast you mixed it—too slow made less dust. We never thought it would hurt us, that was simply the mindset with everyone.

"I believe this asbestos mud impacted my lungs a lot. I just spent 30 days in hospital with pneumonia, which has been ongoing. This time I was really close to not being here. Last November I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I did smoke for a while but they say that once you quit, your lungs should improve. Mine never did, and I had to retire when I was 72.

"I would like to join an asbestos drilling mud lawsuit mainly to make everyone aware of what you are dealing with—how toxic products like asbestos can affect your health. This asbestos is really bad because from what I understand, it never leaves your body. I’ve seen a lot of interesting country and I’ve had a good life, but now I am on oxygen 24/7. I have a portable oxygen bottle, but I sure can’t go scuba diving or gallivanting around the world.”

Larry may be an old timer, and he may have lost a great deal of lung capacity, but he sure hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

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