The Anchor Refining Company Facility operated in the small town of McKittrick, California, located in the southwest corner of the great Central Valley approximately 25 miles west of Bakersfield.
History of the Area
Petroleum has long been a significant industry in Kern County; of California's 43,000 active oil wells, over 36,000 are located in this part of the state. The town of McKittrick is situated atop the oil field for which it is named; the tar sands caused by seepage was known to the native Yokut Indians for centuries. It was these tar sands that in the 1860s drew the first European settlers, who started an industry manufacturing waterproof fabrics as well as lubricants and kerosene. The first "gusher", however, was not discovered until 1896.
Recent Operations and Closure
Better wells producing higher-quality petroleum were discovered in the 1960s. Anchor Refining Company, which was headquartered in Ventura, California, was the main refining operation in the area, processing some 10,000 barrels of crude oil per day during its heyday.
The plant was shut down by the Department of Energy in August of 1991; according to a government publication, the refinery was a major source of air pollution. According to a report prepared for then Representative Henry Waxman, Anchor Refining Company was one of several domestic oil refining operations that failed to report several million tons of toxic emissions into the environment and was among several that were the target of a congressional investigation.
Anchor Refining Company Facility and Asbestos
During most of the 20th century, when extreme heat or combustion was a risk, various forms of asbestos were selected as an insulator. Therefore, it was typical for oil refineries like Anchor Refining Company Facility to be constructed with materials that contained asbestos. A lesser-known property of various kinds of asbestos is that they resist reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in protective garments, coating materials and benches. Asbestos, however, had a major downside that was not understood or at times deliberately ignored: grave and often lethal diseases were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.
In general, amosite was the variety of asbestos used. Often called "brown asbestos", amosite is particularly good at resisting corrosive substances like those produced in plants like Anchor Refining Company Facility because of the iron in its chemical makeup. Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in chemical plants, labs and oil refineries across the United States, amosite was finally prohibited from use for construction purposes in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes just as cement could. For the most part, new items formed from transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos fibers were trapped in the transite. However, when transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) got older, it was prone to crumbling, which caused the lethal, microscopic particles to float into the atmosphere. Asbestos when it is in this state is called friable, or able to be crushed by hand pressure alone. Also, laboratory kilns frequently were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos Bad?
When friable, asbestos fibers are readily released into the atmosphere. When a person breathes these particles, they can damage the lungs, causing cancer. In addition, exposure to asbestos has been shown to be the leading causal factor of mesothelioma, an unusual and all too often fatal cancer affecting the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma result from the ingestion of asbestos fibers, which is likely when microscopic particles are released into the air and settle on food or in drinks. Pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs and chest wall.
In the past twenty years scientists and researchers have discovered much information about the risks that accompany asbestos exposure, and as a result there are stringent regulations controlling its use. In the early 1960s when refineries like Anchor Refining Company Facility began operation, however, the use of asbestos was much more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from long ago can cause problems when it is not properly contained during demolition projects.
The Hidden Danger of Asbestos
Asbestos-related diseases, in contrast to typical on-the-job injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, may take many, many years to develop. It can also be difficult to diagnose asbestos-related diseases because their symptoms resemble the symptoms of other conditions. So, it is vital for folks that worked in or lived near sites like Anchor Refining Company Facility to inform their doctors about the possibility of asbestos exposure. Moreover, even people who commuted in the same cars with these people are also at risk; unless effective decontamination protocols, including the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were followed, it was common for employees to bring asbestos on their persons or their clothes. Those who may have been exposed out of negligence should contact a mesothelioma attorney.Sources
California Department of Conservation - California Oil and Gas Fields (1998)
Department of Energy - Refineries Permanently Shutdown By PAD District Between January 1, 1990 and January 1, 2008
San Joaquin Geological Society - San Joaquin Geological Society Official Website
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
U.S. House of Representatives - Oil Refineries Fail to Report Millions of Pounds of Harmful Emissions. (Prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Minority Staff Special Investigations Division Committee on Government Reform, 10 November 1999)