Resources for Patients and their Families

Atlantic Richfield

The former Atlantic Richfield Company's premier refinery in Washington State is better known as the "Cherry Point Refinery." Located in the town of Birch Bay just a few miles south of the Canadian border, today, as a result of corporate takeover in 2000, the facility is owned and operated by British Petroleum.

Brief History and Statistics

The Cherry Point Refinery was built in 1971. When it first went online, it processed 100,000 barrels per day, and it was fitted with, according to its designer, "the most technically advanced air and water pollution control systems available." The refinery has a wastewater treatment facility that discharges treated effluent into the Strait of Georgia.

Currently, it has a capacity of 225,000 barrels per day, most of which is delivered via tanker from the North Slope fields of Alaska. A smaller amount is piped in from western Canada. In addition to motor fuels, most of which is sold to regional filling stations, the Cherry Point facility supplies the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with 85 percent of its jet fuel needs.

As of February 2009, the refinery was the largest oil refinery in the state and the largest non-governmental employer in the county, with approximately 1,400 employees and on-site contractors.

Asbestos in Atlantic Richfield Company's Refinery in Washington State

During much of the last century, asbestos was used as a building material whenever flames or excessive heat was a risk. Therefore, it was typical for oil refineries like Atlantic Richfield Company's Cherry Point Refinery to be made with materials that contained asbestos. Resistance to reactive chemicals is another property of various types of asbestos. As a result, asbestos was used in lab equipment, protective clothes and bench tops. And while the asbestos did well in safeguarding against the spread of fire and in protecting people from high heat, it also exposed those same people to significant health risks.

Most of this asbestos was amosite. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of the asbestos family of minerals and is generally considered more prone to cause health problems than the serpentine form. This amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, appeared in laboratories, oil refineries and chemical plants throughout the United States for many years before being outlawed in building materials in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite was characterized properties like cement; it could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto pipes and ductwork. As a rule, new items built with transite were safe because the asbestos particles were encapsulated in the transite. With age, however, transite with asbestos-containing material (ACM) becomes prone to becoming powdery, enabling tiny fibers to flake off into the atmosphere. That is, such asbestos is friable, which is defined as easy to crush. The insulation lining of laboratory and chemical plant kilns also almost always contained friable asbestos.

Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad

When friable, asbestos fibers are easily dispersed into the atmosphere. Medical conditions such as cancer are known to result from breathing asbestos. In addition, inhaling asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare but almost always lethal cancer of the mesothelium, the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. If those airborne particles land on food or drinks and are subsequently swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can occur, though they are rarer than pleural mesothelioma.

Since medical research resulted in a better knowledge of the risks of asbestos exposure, workers today enjoy the protection of stringent guidelines regulating the use of asbestos. Asbestos use was more commonplace, however, when most oil refineries were built. And in all too many instances people used asbestos-containing materials when they did not have the protection of protective equipment.

The Time Bomb

Asbestos-related diseases, in contrast to many on-the-job injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, can take many, many years to appear. Given such a lag between exposure and the appearance of the resulting disease, the worker might not even connect the current health problem with work done up to 40 years earlier. Therefore, it is very important for those that worked in or spent much time around sites like Atlantic Richfield Company's Cherry Point Refinery in Washington State to ask their health care professionals for a mesothelioma treatment guide. In addition, all those who shared homes with these people are also in danger, since unless effective decontamination policies, including using on-site uniforms and showers, were in place, it was quite possible for personnel to bring home particles of asbestos on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothing. Although there is no mesothelioma cure, the disease sometimes can be treated with various therapies.



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