The Huntway Refining Company owns and operates two oil refineries in the state of California. One of these is the Wilmington Refinery near Long Beach, California, and the other is the Benicia Refinery northeast of San Francisco.
These facilities produce a number of petroleum products, the primary of which is liquid asphalt. This material is used extensively in road and building construction; in addition, Huntway is a wholesaler of fuel oil, lubricants and kerosene. The company has been a subsidiary of Valero Energy since 2004.
The Wilmington refinery is the newer of the two Huntway facilities, constructed in 1980. Currently, this refinery has a capacity of 6,300 barrels a day. The larger Benecia facility was constructed in 1968 by the Exxon Corporation. This refinery was sold to Valero in 2000 shortly after Exxon merged with Mobil Oil and was obligated to sell off some of its assets as part of the deal. The Benecia refinery has a capacity of 150,000 barrels a day, most of which comes in from Alaska.
Asbestos in Oil Refineries
In cases where combustion or heat was a concern, asbestos was the insulation of choice for most of the last century. Asbestos-containing materials, therefore, were commonly used when constructing oil refineries such as the Huntway Refining Company. Along with being temperature-resistant and flame-proof, some kinds of asbestos are also particularly impervious to chemical reactions. Given the type of work that occurs at oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, was not only used in factory buildings, but also in bench and counter tops and lab equipment. There is little doubt that asbestos was superb at protecting against flames or high temperatures. This ability, however, came with a significant price in terms of human health.
Most of the asbestos was the form called amosite. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of asbestos and is commonly thought to be more likely to cause health problems than serpentine asbestos. Used for decades in the form of asbestos transite in labs and refineries across the US, amosite was finally prohibited from use as a construction material in the 1970s.
Like cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes, laminated and molded into working surfaces. Generally, new items built with transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos particles were trapped in the transite. Microscopic particles of asbestos enter into the air, however, as transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) ages and becomes prone to crumbling. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, which is defined as easily pulverized. In addition, industrial ovens often were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Friable asbestos is hazardous since in this form the particles can be readily dispersed in the air. Breathing asbestos particles can result in conditions like cancer. In addition, inhaling asbestos is known to be the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare and often deadly cancer of the mesothelium, the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. When those particles of asbestos in the air land on food or in beverages and are subsequently swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma may result, though they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.
During the past twenty years scientists and researchers have discovered a lot about the risks that accompany being exposed to asbestos; as a result there are stringent rules controlling its use. Asbestos use was much more common, however, when plants such as the Huntway Refining Company were built. And even now, asbestos from long ago can cause danger when it is not properly contained during remodeling projects.
The Lurking Hazard of Asbestos
As opposed to most workplace injuries, which are readily observed and known about immediately following the incident, asbestos-related illnesses may take many, many years to develop. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases - pain in the chest and shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea) - can easily be confused with those of other, less serious conditions. Therefore, it is vital for everyone that were employed by or resided around oil refineries like the Huntway Refining Company to notify their doctors about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Experimental methods for treating mesothelioma are being developed, and early detection provides the patient and his or her doctor the highest chance of beating the once deathly disease. Those who could have been negligently exposed at a refinery should seek legal guidance from a mesothelioma attorney.
BusinessWeek - Huntway Refining Company: Overview
Center for Land Use Interpretation - Benicia Refinery
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Energy Information Administration - Frequently Asked Questions - Crude Oil