Built in 1952, the Koch Refinery in Corpus Christi is one of the newest refineries in America. The Energy Information Agency ranks it 11th in the country, with a production capacity of 288,468 barrels per day. It started out as a joint venture between Sunray and Tidewater and was called the Suntide plant. However, when the partnership dissolved, the executive vice-president of Sunray, Floyd Martin, went ahead and built the refinery on his own and named the business Suntide Refining. It later became a subsidiary of Sunray DX. Koch Industries made its debut in the oil industry in 1981 when it bought the refinery. A year later, the company purchased the Gulf States Refinery next door and merged the two.
The "Environmental Criminal"
In 2000, Koch was indicted for 97 environmental crimes at the Corpus Christi refinery, stemming from an unreported release of benzene from the refinery's stacks. The company and four of its employees were charged with violating federal air and hazardous waste laws at Koch's West Plant refinery. The indictment also charged the defendants with conspiracy and making false statements to Texas environmental officials. The following year, the company paid a $10 million fine and was ordered to undertake $10 million worth of environmental projects. In 2002, Koch Industries changed the name of its refining business to the more environmentally-friendly-sounding Flint Hills Resources. However, a name change does not a cleaner environment make: the refinery also released 8,729,324 pounds of air pollutants and an additional 584,539 pounds of toxic chemicals that year.
Asbestos and the Koch Refinery in Corpus Christi
Whenever extreme temperature or flame was a risk, various forms of asbestos were the insulation preferred by builders in much of the last century. Materials made with asbestos, therefore, were frequently utilized when building petrochemical plants such as the Koch Refinery. Resistance to reactive chemicals is one of the other properties of various kinds of amphibole asbestos. Due to the type of work that goes on at Oil Refineries, asbestos, therefore, was not only used in factory buildings, but also in counter tops, protective garments and lab equipment. One of the ironic things with asbestos is that while it does a great job of guarding against the harm associated with fire or excessive heat - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for the purpose for centuries - at the same time it poses serious risks to human well being.
Generally, amosite was the kind of asbestos used. When mixed with chrysotile, which is impervious to heat and bases but not as impervious to acids, the amphibole amosite creates materials that are especially effective at preventing damage from corrosive substances. This amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was utilized in oil refineries, chemical plants and labs across the United States for decades before it was banned for construction purposes in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces just like cement could. For the most part, new items built with transite were safe because the asbestos particles were trapped in the transite. With age, however, transite with asbestos-containing material (ACM) becomes prone to becoming powdery, enabling tiny particles to flake off into the air. Asbestos when it is in this condition is called friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. The insulation lining of industrial kilns also frequently were constructed with friable asbestos.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
Friable asbestos is hazardous because in this state the fibers are easily dispersed into the environment. Breathing asbestos particles can lead to diseases like asbestosis. Pleural mesothelioma, a rare but almost always deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium (the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity), is strongly linked with asbestos exposure. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma result from swallowing fibers of asbestos, which happens if the microscopic particles become airborne and settle on food or in beverages.
Increased pressure from news media and citizen groups forced the creation of regulations controlling how to use asbestos. However, when places like the Koch Refinery in Corpus Christi were built, asbestos was more commonplace. Any asbestos remaining from then can still pose danger if care is not taken during remodeling and demolition jobs.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is the associated diseases can take many, many years to appear - often decades after the worker has left the employer. Given such a lag time between exposure and the onset of symptoms, a worker may not even associate the current condition with work done many years ago. Accordingly, it is very important for all who worked at or spent much time around places like the Koch Refinery in Corpus Christi to ask their physicians for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Such information can assist physicians make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner it is caught, the better the chances of surviving or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Although there is no mesothelioma cure, the caner can sometimes be treated with various therapies.
Flint Hills Resources - Texas
Justice.gov - Koch Industries Indicted For Environmental Crimes At Refinery
Steve Lerner - Corpus Christi: Hillcrest Residents Exposed to Benzene In Neighborhood Next Door to Refinery Row
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Energy Information Administration - U.S. Refineries* Operable Capacity