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Atlantic Richfield California

The Atlantic Richfield Oil Company, better known as ARCO, was created in 1966 from the merger of Atlantic Petroleum Storage and the Richfield Oil Corporation. Since 1999, ARCO has been a subsidiary of British Petroleum; it is today officially named "BP West Coast Products LLP." The main corporate offices of ARCO are currently located in La Palma, California.

Historical Roots

Atlantic, as the name implies, was an east coast operation founded just after the American Civil War. It has the distinction of having opened the nation's first modern fueling station in Pittsburgh in 1915,and was a primary supplier of aviation fuel to the US military during both world wars.

Richfield was founded in 1905 and headquartered in California. That company suffered several financial setbacks over the years, spending five years in receivership during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1942, its Santa Barbara refinery was shelled by a Japanese submarine, the first attack on US soil by a foreign power since 1812.

Today, ARCO is the seventh-largest petroleum company in the United States and the top seller of motor fuel in California, due largely to its "cash only" approach and co-branding with AM-PM convenience stores.

ARCO Today

ARCO's largest refinery is located in Carson, California, near the junction of I-405 and SR-47 just north of Long Beach. The refinery suffered an explosion in August of 1990. In May of 2003, the California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances Control issued a Hazardous Waste Facility Post-Closure Permit for the nearby storage facility on Sepulveda Avenue to the parent company. The refinery is still in operation but is subject to regulation by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

ARCO Refineries and Asbestos

In cases where flame or extreme temperature was a concern, asbestos was the insulator preferred by builders during most of the 1900s. Materials made with asbestos, therefore, were commonly utilized when constructing oil refineries like ones operated by ARCO in California. Another property of various forms of the fibrous mineral is that they are unaffected by chemicals. Because of the kind of work that goes on at Oil Refineries, asbestos, therefore, was not only used in plant structures, but also in coating materials, counter tops and safety clothes. There is little doubt that asbestos was extremely effective at safeguarding against combustion or extreme heat. This benefit, however, was accompanied by a tragic price in terms of human health.

Generally, amosite was the variety of asbestos used. When mixed with chrysotile, which is impervious to heat and bases but not as impervious to acidic compounds, amosite creates products that are particularly effective at protecting against corrosive chemicals. Although it was prohibited from use for construction purposes in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was used for decades in oil refineries and labs throughout the US.

Asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces just as cement could. This form of asbestos did not pose a health risk while it remained solid. However, when transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) aged, it was prone to crumbling, which enabled the lethal, tiny fibers to flake off into the atmosphere. In other words, such asbestos is friable, which is defined as easy to pulverize. The insulation lining of laboratory and chemical plant kilns also often were constructed with friable asbestos.

Why Is Friable Asbestos Bad?

Friable asbestos is dangerous since in this form the particles are readily released into the environment. If someone breathes these particles, they can harm the lungs, resulting in cancer or asbestosis. In addition, exposure to asbestos has been shown to be the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare but almost always lethal disease affecting the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Swallowing asbestos fibers, which can occur if those tiny particles become airborne and fall on food or drinks, may result in peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma. Inhaling asbestos results in pleural mesothelioma.

Because scientific inquiry yielded more awareness of asbestos' serious effects on human health, workers today enjoy the protection of stringent laws regulating how to use asbestos. However, when ARCO refineries in California began operating in the 1960s, the use of asbestos was much more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from the past may be the source of problems when it is not properly handled during demolition and remodeling projects.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is that resulting diseases can take many, many years to appear - often long after the worker has left the employer. It can also be challenging to identify asbestos-related illnesses since their symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other conditions. People who worked in or spent much time near oil refineries such as ARCO's should, accordingly, tell their physicians about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Such information can help doctors make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner it is caught, the better the odds of surviving or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Those who believe they have been exposed negligently are encouraged to contact a mesothelioma attorney.



Atlantic Richfield Company - Company History

Douglass, Elizabeth and Gary Cohn - Retainers Maintain a Firm But Legal Grip on Supplies (Los Angeles Times,18 June 2005)

South Coast Air Quality Management District - Flares: BP Carson Refinery

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

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

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