Tucked into the Calcasieu Ship Canal, Calcasieu Refining is the 78th-largest oil refinery in the United States. Owned by Houston-based Transworld Oil USA Inc., it processes 78,000 barrels of oil every day. With crude storage capacity over 300,000-barrels, the refinery's total crude and product storage capacity is more than 750,000 barrels. Calcasieu produces kerosene, diesel, atmospheric residuals and Jet-A fuel, including high sulfur-dyed diesel, mineral spirits and diesel tug fueling. It employs 93 people.
Not-so-good Report Card
In terms of the environment, Calcasieu is, at best, a C student. Using 1994 TRI data, the Environmental Defense scorecard listed the refinery as number 12 in a list of the Top 20 Polluters in Calcasieu Parish. In 2008, a consent decree was lodged in United States District Court for Western Louisiana under the Clean Air Act in United States and the State of Louisiana v. Calcasieu Refining Company, Inc., that directed the company to pay a civil penalty of$612,500. In addition, the company was told toimplement air pollution control technologies to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from refinery process units.
Calcasieu was also directed to adopt enhanced benzene waste monitoring throughout the facility and fugitive emission control programs, as well as a program to minimize flaring events. In 2009, OSHA fined the company $110,600 for failing to provide process safety information for pressure vessels, develop a written mechanical integrity program, conduct regularly scheduled inspections, designate hazardous classified locations, conduct compliance audits and maintain an audible alarm system.
Asbestos and Oil Refineries
During the majority of the 1900s, when extreme temperature or combustion was a danger, various forms of asbestos were selected as insulation. Facilities such as Calcasieu Refining, therefore, were usually made with asbestos-containing materials. Another property of certain kinds of asbestos is that they resist chemical reactions. Ceiling tiles, insulation, counter tops, even protective uniforms, therefore, frequently contained the fibrous mineral. There is no doubt that asbestos was very good at protecting against combustion or heat. This benefit, however, was accompanied by a major price in terms of human health.
Much of this asbestos was amosite. Amosite is one of the amphibole varieties of asbestos, which is generally thought to be more prone to cause disease than serpentine asbestos. Although it was outlawed as a construction material in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, appeared for many years in refineries, laboratories and chemical plants across the country.
Asbestos transite had qualities similar to cement; it could be laminated, sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and molded into working surfaces. For the most part, new items built with transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos particles were encapsulated in the transite. With age, however, asbestos-containing transite becomes prone to crumbling, allowing tiny fibers to float into the atmosphere. That is, such asbestos is friable, which translates to easily pulverized. Laboratory kilns also often were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
The Dangers of Friable Asbestos
When friable, asbestos particles are readily released into the atmosphere. Breathing asbestos particles can result in conditions such as cancer or asbestosis. In addition, exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, an unusual and almost always lethal cancer affecting the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. If the particles of asbestos in the air land on food or in drinks and are then swallowed, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma can occur, though they are rarer than pleural mesothelioma.
Since medical research resulted in more understanding of the risks of asbestos exposure, employees today are protected by strict guidelines regulating the use of asbestos. Asbestos use was more commonplace, however, when most oil refineries were constructed. Any asbestos that remains from that period may yet pose a health hazard if care is not taken during remodeling and demolition projects.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
As opposed to typical workplace injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, asbestos-related diseases may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to manifest. When a former worker begins showing signs such as pain in the chest or abdomen, a persistent cough and shortness of breath, his or her doctor may not immediately recognize asbestos exposure as a factor, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. It is extremely important, therefore, that those that worked in or lived around plants such as Calcasieu Refining ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. Moreover, spouses and children of these people are also in danger, since unless effective decontamination protocols, such as the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were enforced, it was all too common for workers to bring home asbestos fibers on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothing. When detected early, patients are more likely to be eligible for treatments like mesothelioma surgery.Sources
Calcasieu Refining - Recent Media Coverage of Calcasieu Refining
Federal Register - Notice of Lodging of Consent Decree Under the Clean Air Act
Occupational Safety and Health Administration - U.S. Labor Department's OSHA cites Lake Charles, La.-based refinery for alleged safety and health violations
OneSource.com - Calcasieu Refining Co Overview
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Energy Information Agency - U.S. Refineries* Operable Capacity