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Drilling mud laced with asbestos is put in landfills. Is it safe?

It has long been suspected that oil and gas drilling workers may be at risk for asbestos-related illnesses from exposure to drilling mud, in which asbestos is often used as a thickener. The question of whether asbestos-laced drilling mud is an inherently deadly product seemed to have been answered two years ago when a Louisiana jury awarded $322 million to a former drilling rig worker who was diagnosed with asbestosis so bad that he requires oxygen 24 hours a day.

That $322 million verdict against Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, LP, was overturned the following year due to an apparent conflict of interest by the judge in the case. In 2013, a second jury agreed that the oil rig worker had been harmed by asbestos drilling mud and that Chevron Phillips was liable for exposing him to the product, but, although they gave him a winning verdict, they awarded him $0 dollars in compensation.

Despite the zero-money verdict, most experts still believe that oil drilling mud containing asbestos can pose a serious hazard to oil field workers, and those workers are expected to continue to bring their cases to court.

In the meantime, however, another important question has yet to be answered. What happens to the asbestos-laced drilling mud when workers are finished using it?

According to one man, who worked for four years disposing of the used mud in the Ventura, California, oil fields, the asbestos-laden drilling mud is mixed with water and dirt, stockpiled in gigantic piles forty or fifty feet high, and eventually hauled off and used for landfill.

That seems unlikely to be safe. Most dangerous or deadly products must be disposed of in landfills equipped with special leak-proof liners, and the oilfield-mud disposal driver doesn't know where the giant mounts of mud are eventually taken to.

Is asbestos-laden mud being used to smooth and fill land in residential developments or farmland? How much asbestos is in the mud? Have steps been taken to prevent deadly asbestos fibers from affecting those who come into contact with the mud? Are the workers and haulers at risk merely from processing the mud?

These and many other questions need to be answered, and they need to be answered immediately. Asbestosis, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses are no joke. They're delayed, deadly killers for we have no cure.

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