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AGE Refining

It takes a lot of chutzpa to name an oil company after yourself, but that's just what Al Gonzalez did. Al Gonzalez Energy Marketing (AGE) is the United States' 124th-largest oil refiner, producing 14,021 barrels of oil per day.

In January 1991, Gonzalez landed a contract to deliver military jet fuel to the government. Two months later, in March, he bought an oil refinery in San Antonio from Howell Hydrocarbons and Chemicals and jumped into the oil business. The following year, the company produced just a little over 4,000 barrels a day.

Production increased regularly in the following years. In 2005, AGE began manufacturing bio-diesel and AGE Low Emissions Diesel. AGE's B20 biodiesel fuel is a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel fuel that meets EPAct (Energy Policy Act) compliance. The product blends two premium products - sulfur-free, soybean-based and renewable biodiesel, provided by Houston-based Gulf Hydrocarbon Inc., and AGE's premium diesel.

Environmental Impact

Although there is some anecdotal evidence that the refinery now owned by AGE was cited by environmental groups as a "gross polluter" when it was under the ownership of Howell Hydrocarbons, AGE has kept its operations relatively clean. In 2001, however, the company paid a $3,000 fine for failing to make a timely report of chemicals on its property to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Asbestos and Oil Refineries

In most of the 20th century, various forms of asbestos were chosen as a building material whenever fire or extreme heat was a risk. Materials that contained asbestos, therefore, were commonly used in the building of plants such as AGE Refining. In addition to being heat-proof and flame-proof, certain forms of asbestos are also particularly impervious to reactive chemicals. As a result, asbestos was used in protective garments, bench and counter tops and coating materials. There is little question that asbestos was great at protecting against flames and heat. This ability, however, came with a significant cost in terms of human health.

For the most part, amosite was the type of asbestos utilized. Often called "brown asbestos", amosite is especially resistant to corrosive substances like those produced in facilities like AGE Refining because of the iron in its chemical makeup. Although it was banned in building materials in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was used for decades in oil refineries and chemical plants throughout the US.

Asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto pipes and ductwork just as cement could. As long as asbestos transite remained solid, this form of asbestos offered no immediate hazard. As this transite gets older and become prone to becoming powdery, however, lethal, microscopic particles are able to flake off into the air. Asbestos when it is in this condition is called friable, which translates to easy to pulverize. Also, laboratory and chemical plant kilns often were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

The Problem with Friable Asbestos

Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this state the particles are readily released into the atmosphere. Medical conditions such as asbestosis can result from the inhalation of asbestos. Another uncommon, but generally fatal, disease caused by asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of mesothelioma, which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. If those particles of asbestos in the air land on food or in drinks and are then ingested, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma can result, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.

During the past twenty years medical researchers have discovered much information about the risks that accompany asbestos exposure; therefore there are strict rules controlling its use. When petrochemical processors like AGE Refining were first operating, however, asbestos was more commonplace. And in far too many cases workers used asbestos-containing materials without the protection of respirators or other safety gear.

A Ticking Bomb

Asbestos-related diseases, as opposed to typical job-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the incident, may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear. When a former worker starts exhibiting signs such as pain in the chest or abdomen, chronic coughing and difficulty breathing, his or her doctor may not immediately recognize asbestos exposure as a cause, leading to a delay in diagnosis. Hence, it is vital for men and women who worked at or resided around oil refineries like AGE Refining to ask their doctors for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Such information can help doctors to make accurate diagnoses; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner it is caught, the better the chances of survival or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life. While there is no mesothelioma cure, the disease can sometimes be treated with various therapies.




AGE Refining - Trial by Fire

Energy Optimization News - PRODUCTION: AGE Refining Blends for Southwest Texas (Energy Optimization News, June 1, 2005)

Pat Rizzuto - Less Than 1 Percent of EPA's 2008 Budget Focused on Toxic Substances Control Act

San Antonio Business Journal - Plant closure delayed for contract (Howell Hydrocarbons and Chemicals Inc.)

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

US Energy Information Administration - U.S. Refineries* Operable Capacity

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