The Condea Chemical Plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, technically in the suburb of Westlake, was originally built by Conoco, primarily to produce vinyl chloride monomers. In 1984, the plant was purchased by Condea Vista Co. Because the plant is landlocked, the contract gave Condea rights to use Conoco's docking and pipeline facilities.
Pollution from EDC Leaks
In 1993, Louisiana officials discovered high concentrations of EDC (ethylene dichloride) in the Calcasieu Estuary (a large wetlands ecosystem off the Gulf of Mexico) near Lake Charles. Nine months later, the public was informed of the problem. It was soon discovered that Conoco had warned Condea Vista, as early as 1990, that the pipeline - which had been built in 1947 - was unsound. The company estimated that 1.6 million pounds of EDC had leaked into the water table; estimates by outside sources ran between 19 and 47 million pounds. Highly publicized negligence lawsuits resulted in a settlement of undisclosed size. Today, a significant portion of the northern estuary is under a health advisory as to fish, shellfish, and swimming.
Allegations were also brought by the citizens of Mossville, Louisiana, that Condea Vista had leaked ethylene dichloride (a highly toxic ingredient used in the production of plastics), into the town's water supply, rendering it unsafe. Mossville has since suffered a major population decline. They brought a lawsuit that was later settled for $47 million.
In 2000, international conglomerate Sasol Ltd. purchased the facility. The plant now produces a wide variety of products, primarily components for household cleaners, and contains Sasol's North American Research and Development Center. The Calcasieu Estuary has been designated a Superfund site and is under investigation.
In 2003, Sasol admitted that asbestos had been used at its sites in the United States and promulgated a five-year "phase-out plan".
Asbestos and Condea Chemical Plant in Lake Charles
In almost all of the last century, in cases where excessive heat or flame was a danger, asbestos was selected as a building material. Materials that contained asbestos, therefore, were commonly used when building facilities such as Condea Chemical Plant in Lake Charles. Along with being flame-proof as well as heat-proof, certain kinds of asbestos are also especially impervious to chemical reactions. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, bench tops, even protective garments, therefore, often contained the fibrous mineral. And although the asbestos did well in preventing fire damage and in protecting people and equipment from extreme temperatures, the mineral also exposed people who used it or worked around it to serious health risks.
Amosite was most often the kind of asbestos utilized in these facilities. When mixed with chrysotile, which is resistant to heat and bases but not as impervious to acidic compounds, amosite creates materials that are particularly effective at preventing damage from corrosive substances. Used for decades in the form of asbestos transite in refineries, labs and chemical plants throughout the US, amosite was eventually outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s.
Like cement, asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces. As long as it remained solid, this form of asbestos posed almost no hazard. Tiny particles of asbestos enter into the air, however, as this transite grows older and becomes prone to crumbling. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, which is defined as easy to crush. The insulation lining of laboratory and chemical plant kilns also almost always contained friable asbestos.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
When friable, asbestos fibers are easily released into the atmosphere. Diseases like asbestosis are known to result from breathing asbestos. In addition, asbestos exposure is known to be the leading causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, a rare and almost always fatal disease affecting the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. Swallowing asbestos fibers, as is easy to do if the tiny particles enter the air and fall on food or in drinks, may lead to peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma.
In the past twenty years medical researchers have uncovered much information concerning the risks that accompany asbestos exposure; therefore there are stringent guidelines regulating its use. The use of asbestos was much more commonplace, however, when plants such as Condea Chemical Plant in Lake Charles began operation. Before present-day laws were enacted, employees often toiled without respirators or other protective gear in environments where asbestos particles filled the air.
The Lurking Hazard of Asbestos
Unlike typical work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, asbestos-related diseases can take many, many years to appear. It can also be hard to diagnose asbestos-related ailments because the symptoms resemble the symptoms of other disorders. It is extremely important, therefore, that everyone who were employed by or spent much time near places like Condea Chemical Plant in Lake Charles notify their physicians about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Such information can enable doctors to make accurate diagnoses; especially with mesothelioma cancer, the sooner it is diagnosed, the better the chances of survival or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life as there is no mesothelioma cure.Sources
Alexander's Gas and Oil Connections - Sasol to Acquire Condea
CDM Knowledge Center - Calcasieu Estuary Superfund Site Remedial Investigation
Center for Health, Environment and Justice - PVC Production in the New "Cancer Alley"
KPLC-TV - Condea Vista hired spies
NOAA's National Ocean Service - 'Watershed Database and Mapping Projects/Calcasieu Estuary
Pollution Issues - Cancer Alley, Louisiana
Sasol North America - General Product Info
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
U.S. PIRG Education Fund - CASE STUDY: CALCASIEU PARISH, LA
US SEC Form 20-F - Sasol, Ltd., 2003