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BP Amoco Indiana

The BP refinery at Whiting, Indiana, was built in 1889, just south of Chicago, and named the Standard Oil Company. By the mid-1890s, it was producing 36,000 barrels per day and accounted for 20 percent of U. S. oil production. In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court found Standard Oil in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which forbids industry monopolies. Company founder John D. Rockefeller was forced to break up the Standard Oil Company, and Standard Oil (Indiana) was born. In 1920, Standard Indiana was the third largest oil refinery in the U.S. It merged with American Oil Company (Amoco) in 1925. In 1985, the company changed its name to Amoco. It became part of British Petroleum (BP) in 1998.

The Whiting Refinery Today

The BP refinery at Whiting ranks as the fifth-largest refinery in the United States, producing 405,000 barrels of oil every day. It employs 1,700 people. The plant is undergoing a $3.8 million modernization project. When the project is completed in 2012, the refinery is expected to produce 1.7 million gallons of gasoline daily. The project includes a new coker, crude distillation unit, gas oil hydro treater and sulfur recovery facilities. About $1.4 billion of the project will go toward environmental controls. However, the upgrade has faced several court challenges from groups and individuals who say the remodeled refinery will increase Lake Michigan pollution.

BP Refinery at Whiting, Indiana, and Asbestos

Whenever heat or fire was a danger, the mineral called asbestos was the insulating material of choice during much of the 1900s. Therefore, it was not uncommon for oil refineries such as BP refinery at Whiting to be constructed with materials made with asbestos. One of the other properties of some forms of asbestos is that they are resistant to chemical reactions. Because of the kind of work that occurs at refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in factory buildings, but also in bench tops and protective clothes. Asbestos, however, carried a notable downside that was either not understood or at times deliberately ignored: serious and sometimes lethal diseases were found to be the result of exposure to asbestos.

Amosite was most often the type of asbestos used in such facilities. The brown pigment associated with amosite is a result of iron molecules in its chemical composition; this also makes amosite resistant to corrosive chemicals, such as those manufactured in facilities like the Whiting BP refinery. This amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, appeared in chemical plants and labs throughout the United States for decades before it was banned in building materials in the 1970s.

As with cement, asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto pipes and ductwork. As a rule, new items built with transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos fibers were trapped in the transite. With age, however, asbestos-containing transite becomes prone to becoming powdery, allowing tiny fibers to float into the atmosphere. Asbestos in this state is called friable, or able to be crushed by hand pressure alone. In addition, industrial kilns frequently were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad

When friable, asbestos particles are readily released in the environment. Medical conditions such as cancer and asbestosis are known to result from being exposed to airborne asbestos. Another uncommon, but generally deadly, disease linked to asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural variety of mesothelioma, one which attacks the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most prevalent. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are caused by the ingestion of asbestos fibers, which can occur if the microscopic particles float in the air and settle on food or drinks.

Since scientific inquiry resulted in a better awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure, workers today benefit from the protection offered by strict regulations controlling how to use asbestos. However, when plants such as the BP refinery at Whiting, Indiana, were first operating, the use of asbestos was more commonplace. Any asbestos remaining from that time may still pose danger if people are not careful during demolition jobs.

A Time Bomb

Asbestos-related diseases, as opposed to many on-the-job injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, may take many, many years to appear. The symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma - dyspnea (i.e., shortness of breath) and a persistent cough - can often be confused with the symptoms of other, less serious disorders. People that worked in or lived around places such as the BP Whiting refinery therefore should ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. Experimental drugs for treating mesothelioma are being discovered, and early detection provides patients the best chance to beat the once deathly form of cancer. In addition, mesothelioma surgery can sometimes aid in treatment.


Sources - BP Whiting Refinery Modernization Project

Dennis Cauchon - Great Lakes see a future beyond industry

The Encyclopedia of Chicago - Standard Oil Co. (Indiana)

F.X. Micheloud's Website - Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company

Tom Spalding - BP's Whiting refinery plans temporary shutdown

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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