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BP Amoco Louisiana

The early French settlers in this region called it "belle chasse" - good hunting. When it comes to oil, there's also good hunting around Belle Chasse.

The Alliance Refinery is one of the newer refineries in the United States; it was built in 1971 by Gulf Refining Company on a 670-acre tract that used to be a plantation. According to the Energy Information Agency, it's the nation's 19th-largest oil producer, pumping 247,000 barrels per day. Located 25 miles downstream from New Orleans, the plant makes gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and home heating oil from light, low-sulfur crude. Alliance's crude oil stocks come from the Gulf of Mexico via pipeline and from West Africa via pipeline connected to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. Most refined products are distributed to customers in the southeastern and eastern United States through major common-carrier pipeline systems and by barge. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has designated the Alliance Refinery as an Environmental Leader Facility for its voluntary efforts to reduce flaring, leaks and emissions.

ConocoPhillips' Alliance Refinery stores friable and non-friable asbestos in a private landfill on its site. It does not accept waste from outside sources.

Changing Hands

Although Gulf Oil built the plant, it was acquired by BP at some time after the British Petroleum-Amoco merger. BP Amoco sold it to Tosco for $660 million in 2000. Phillips Petroleum snapped up Tosco the following year. In 2002, Phillips and Conoco merged to become ConocoPhillips.

Asbestos in Oil Refineries

For most of the last century, whenever flame or extreme heat was a danger, various forms of asbestos were used as insulation. Materials that contained asbestos, therefore, were commonly utilized when building petrochemical facilities such as Alliance Refinery. Resistance to chemical reactions is another property of certain forms of amphibole asbestos. Because of this, asbestos was used in lab equipment, benches and safety clothes. One of the ironic things with asbestos is that although it does a fine job of protecting lives and property from the harm associated with excessive heat and combustion - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for this purpose for centuries - it also poses serious risks to people's health.

Most of this asbestos was the form called amosite. Often called "brown asbestos", the amphibole form of asbestos known as amosite is especially resistant to corrosive substances like those produced in plants like Alliance Refinery because of the iron molecules in its chemical composition. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in chemical plants, laboratories and refineries throughout the country, amosite was finally prohibited from use as a construction material in the 1970s.

Like cement, asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces and laminated. As long as asbestos transite remained solid, this form of asbestos offered almost no risk. As this transite gets older and become prone to becoming powdery, however, deadly, tiny fibers are able to flake off into the air. In other words, such asbestos is friable, a term that is used for materials that are easy to pulverize. The insulation lining of industrial ovens also frequently were constructed with friable asbestos.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

When friable, asbestos fibers are easily released in the air. When a person breathes these particles, they can harm the lungs, resulting in asbestosis or cancer. Another unusual, but often fatal, asbestos-related disease is mesothelioma. The pleural variety of the illness, one which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are linked to the ingestion of fibers of asbestos, which happens if microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or drinks.

Increased pressure from researchers, news media and citizen groups forced the creation of regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When Oil Refineries like Alliance Refinery were constructed, however, asbestos was much more prevalent. And even now, asbestos from long ago may be the source of problems if it is mishandled during remodeling projects.

A Time Bomb

One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is the associated diseases may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear - often decades after the worker has retired from the employer. When a worker starts showing signs such as a chronic cough, chest pain and shortness of breath, his or her doctor may not immediately recognize asbestos as a cause, leading to delays in diagnosis. Men and women that were employed by or lived near places like Alliance Refinery therefore should ask their health care professionals for mesothelioma information. In addition, all those who shared homes with these people are also in danger, because unless strict decontamination protocols, including the use of on-site showers, were followed, it was all too easy for workers to bring asbestos particles on themselves or their clothes. Sometimes, mesothelioma surgery can treat patients with the disease.



ConocoPhillips - U.S. Refining - Gulf Coast Region

Louisiana Economic Development - Phillips Alliance Refinery

Louisiana DEQ - Regulated Asbestos Landfills Recognized by Louisiana to Accept Regulated Asbestos Containing Waste Material

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

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

US Energy Information Agency - Ranking of U.S. Refineries, July 2009

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