The Bakersfield Refining Company, located in the Southern California city of the same name, is currently operated by Equilon Enterprises LLC. Equilon was owned jointly by Shell Oil and Texaco until Shell bought out the latter's interest in March of 2002. This refinery has a total capacity of 70,000 barrels per day but recently experienced some problems related to electrical power service interruptions.
The Bakersfield Refining Company has been under scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Since the late 1990s, Equilon, which owns the facility, has been subject to a Risk Management Plan. Since 2004, the refinery has been registered in the Reformulated Gasoline and Anti-Dumping Program.
According to a report by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the chemical methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) has been found in "elevated concentrations" on the site and in nearby areas, causing a great deal of concern in the local community.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
In situations where flame or extreme temperature was a danger, the mineral called asbestos was the insulating material of choice in much of the 20th century. Therefore, it was not uncommon for oil refineries such as Bakersfield Refining Company to be built with asbestos-containing materials. Resistance to reactive chemicals is perhaps a less well-known property of certain kinds of amphibole asbestos. Floor tiles, insulation, counter tops, even protective garments, therefore, commonly were made with the fibrous mineral. There is little question that asbestos was excellent at safeguarding against high heat and fire. This ability, however, was accompanied by a major price in terms of human health.
Amosite was frequently the variety of asbestos used in such locations. Often referred to as "brown asbestos", amosite is particularly good at resisting acidic substances like those used in oil refineries because of the iron molecules in its chemical composition. Although it was disallowed as a construction material in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, appeared for many years in chemical plants and oil refineries across the country.
Asbestos transite displayed qualities like cement; it could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. For the most part, new items formed from transite were innocuous because the asbestos particles were trapped in the transite. Tiny fibers of asbestos are released into the atmosphere, however, as this transite grows older and becomes prone to crumbling. In this state, it is said to be friable, a term used for material that is easily crushed. Industrial kilns also often were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Friable asbestos is hazardous since in this form the particles are easily dispersed in the atmosphere. If someone breathes these particles, they can damage the lungs, resulting in cancer. Mesothelioma, a rare and often lethal cancer affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity), is strongly linked with inhaling asbestos. When the particles of asbestos in the air land on food or in drinks and are subsequently swallowed, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma can occur, though they are rarer than pleural mesothelioma.
Since scientific inquiry yielded increased knowledge of asbestos' serious effects on human health, people today benefit from the protection offered by strict rules controlling how to use asbestos. In the 1960s when Bakersfield Refining Company was built, however, asbestos was more common. And in way too many instances people worked with asbestos-containing materials when they did not have the protection of protective equipment.
A Time Bomb
As opposed to most on-the-job injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, asbestos-related illnesses may take many, many years to develop. Given such a lag between asbestos exposure and the appearance of the resulting disease, the worker might not connect his or her current condition with work done many years ago. It is extremely important, therefore, that folks that worked in or lived near places such as Bakersfield Refining Company tell their health care professionals about the possibility of asbestos exposure. Moreover, even people who commuted in the same cars with these people are also at risk; unless effective safety measures, such as the use of on-site showers, were enforced, it was common for people to bring home asbestos particles on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothes. Workers who could have been exposed negligently should consider contacting a mesothelioma attorney.Sources
California Department of Toxic Substances Control - CALIFORNIA PETROLEUM REFINERY HAZARDOUS WASTE SOURCE REDUCTION 1998 ASSESSMENT REPORT
California Regional Water Quality Control Board Central Valley Region - Executive Officer's Report, 26 April 2002
Electro Industries GaugeTech - Monitoring Case Study Number 0010: Bakersfield Refining Company Ensures Productive Operations With Advanced Power Monitoring
Environmental Protection Agency - Facilities Registered in the Reformulated Gasoline and Anti-Dumping Program
Toxic Risk - Bakersfield Refining Co. - Areas 1 and 2 - Executive Summary
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal