Supplying the Gulf Coast of the United States with refined petroleum products, the Murphy Oil refinery in Meraux, Louisiana, processes 125,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Murphy Oil USA acquired the Meraux, Louisiana, refinery from Ingram Oil and Refining Company in 1961.
Since its acquisition, Murphy Oil's Louisiana refinery has had a long history of negative impacts on both the environment and the health of workers employed there.
In 1998, 22 contract workers for Lou-Con who had worked at Murphy Oil's refinery sued the company for exposing them to asbestos over 30 years. This exposure, the plaintiffs claimed, resulted in their contracting asbestosis.
Following hurricane Katrina, which struck southern Louisiana August 29, 2005, 25,110 barrels were released from the Murphy Oil refinery in Meraux. Concerns rose with the floodwaters about the security of the oil tanks on the refinery's property.
Immediate flyovers following the hurricane showed no evidence of a spill, but by September 3, 2005, Murphy Oil reported that one of its tanks was lifted by the flood waters and moved 33 feet, resulting in an oil spill that sent sludge into more than 1,800 homes near the refinery. Final estimates determined that canals in southern Louisiana and more than 1 million square miles of neighborhoods were affected by the spill.
The oil spill resulted in Murphy Oil paying millions of dollars in fines to those affected by the spill.
Asbestos and Murphy Oil Refinery in Meraux, Louisiana
Whenever excessive heat or fire was a danger, asbestos was the insulator preferred by builders for most of the last century. Facilities such as the Murphy Oil refinery in Meraux, as a result, were often made using materials that contained asbestos. One of the other properties of various kinds of asbestos is that they are resistant to reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in protective clothes and bench tops. The ironic thing about asbestos is that while it does superbly guarding against the damage done by high temperatures or fire - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for the purpose since ancient times - at the same time it poses significant risks to human health.
Amosite was most often the kind of asbestos used in such locations. Often called "brown asbestos", the amphibole form of asbestos known as amosite is particularly good at resisting acidic substances like those used in oil refineries because of the iron molecules in its chemical makeup. Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in refineries, labs and chemical plants throughout the country, amosite was eventually outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s.
As with cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, molded into working surfaces and laminated. For the most part, new items built with transite were innocuous since the asbestos fibers were encapsulated in the transite. However, when asbestos-containing transite aged, it became prone to becoming powdery, which enabled the lethal, microscopic fibers to float into the air. Asbestos when it is in this state is considered friable, or able to be pulverized by hand pressure alone. In addition, industrial kilns often were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Asbestos particles, when they are friable, are readily released in the environment. Medical conditions like asbestosis are known to result from being exposed to airborne asbestos. Another uncommon, and often lethal, disease linked to asbestos is mesothelioma. The pleural form of the illness, which affects the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most prevalent. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are linked to swallowing asbestos fibers, which can occur if the microscopic particles become airborne and land on food or in drinks.
Mounting pressure from the medical community, citizen groups and the media resulted in regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When plants such as the Murphy Oil refinery were constructed, however, the use of asbestos was more common. Any asbestos remaining from that period can yet pose danger if people are not careful during demolition projects.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
Asbestos-related diseases, in contrast to typical job-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, may take many, many years to develop. Given such a lengthy time between exposure and the onset of symptoms, a worker may not associate the current health problem with work he or she did many years earlier. People that were employed by or spent much time around sites like the Murphy Oil refinery in Meraux, Louisiana, should, therefore, ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. Furthermore, all those who shared homes with these people are also at risk, because unless strict decontamination protocols, such as using workplace-only clothing and on-site showers, were followed, it was common for workers to bring particles of asbestos on themselves or their clothes. If caught early, doctors may be able to perform mesothelioma surgery as a form of treatment.
EPA.gov - Murphy Oil USA Refinery Spill
FindLaw.com - Hartford Insurance Group vs. Lou-Con Appeal
FundingUniverse.com - Murphy Oil USA Company History
MurphyOilCorp.com - Our Business
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal