This plant, located northwest of Portland, Oregon, near US Highway 30, has a history going back to the early 1960s. It was twenty years before the EPA got around to inspecting the site; in addition to common fertilizer manufacturing byproducts such as ammonia nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen, traces of mercury and PCBs were also found at the site.
The plant has changed hands several times over the past half-century. In addition to Chevron, the facility has been owned and operated under the following names:
- Coastal Refining and Marketing
- Coastal Saint Helens Chemical
- CPEX Pacific, Inc. - St. Helens
- Reichhold Chemical Inc. - St. Helens
- Shell Oil Company - St. Helens
Asbestos and Chemical Plants
For the majority of the last century, when flame or excessive heat was a danger, various forms of asbestos were chosen as insulation. Materials that contained asbestos, accordingly, were frequently utilized in the construction of chemical plants like Chevron Chemical Fertilizer Plant in Portland, Oregon. Resistance to chemical reactions is one of the other properties of asbestos. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in protective clothes and counter tops. There is no doubt that asbestos was extremely effective at safeguarding against excessive heat and flames. This strength, however, came with a tragic price in terms of human health.
Most of this asbestos was of the amosite variety. Amosite is one of the amphibole varieties of the asbestos family of minerals, which is generally thought to be more likely to cause health problems than serpentine asbestos. Although it was banned as a construction material in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was utilized for decades in refineries, chemical plants and laboratories across the United States.
Asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces in the same way cement could. Generally, new items made with transite were considered safe since the asbestos fibers were trapped in the transite. With age, however, this transite grows prone to crumbling, allowing tiny fibers to flake off into the air. In other words, such asbestos is friable, a term that is used for material that is easily crushed. Laboratory ovens also almost always were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
The Dangers of Friable Asbestos
Asbestos particles, when they are friable, are easily dispersed into the air. Breathing these particles can lead to conditions such as asbestosis or cancer. In addition, asbestos exposure is the primary causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, an unusual but all too often lethal disease of the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, as happens if those tiny particles enter the air and fall on food or in drinks, can lead to pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.
Because research yielded increased understanding of asbestos' serious effects on human health, workers today are protected by strict guidelines regulating the use of asbestos. In the 1960s, when chemical plants like Portland Chevron Chemical Fertilizer Plant were operating, however, asbestos was more prevalent. Any asbestos remaining from then can yet pose danger if people are not careful during demolition and remodeling jobs.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
Asbestos cancer unlike most work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop. The symptoms of mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis - difficulty breathing and chest pain - can often be mistaken for those of other, less serious disorders. Men and women that worked at or spent much time around places like Chevron Chemical Fertilizer Plant in Portland should, therefore, notify their physicians about the possibility of exposure to asbestos. New treatments for mesothelioma are being discovered, and early detection provides patients the best chance of beating the once deathly disease.Sources
Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality - Environmental Cleanup Site Information (ECSI) Database Site Summary Report - Details for Site ID 1013, Chevron Chemical Co. - St. Helens
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal