Chevron Oil is a California company with refineries Richmond and El Segundo. Oil refineries such as these made extensive use of asbestos and asbestos products, including fireproof clothing and other protective gear, laboratory facilities, building insulation and lagging for electrical conduits. However, asbestos is the least of it when it comes to the company's poor environmental record.
The company began with an oil discovery in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles in the 1870s. Pacific Coast Oil Company was founded in 1878. This company eventually came under control of John D. Rockefeller, who attempted to monopolize the US oil industry. It later became Standard Oil of California (SOCAL) in 1911 when the trust was broken up under the Taft Administration.
SOCAL merged with Gulf Oil in 1984, which was the largest such merger in history at the time; the name was then changed to Chevron Corporation. Since that time, Chevron has taken over Texaco and Unocal as well, largely reversing the efforts of the Theodore Roosevelt and Taft Administrations to limit the power of such corporate behemoths over a century ago.
Today, Chevron has 27,000 employees in the United States as with an additional 40,000 employees worldwide. As of 2003, the company has a capacity of approximately 2 million barrels a day.
According to a University of Michigan website, Chevron Corporation facilities in Richmond contain approximately 5,500 tons of dangerous chemical substances close to residential areas. The author of the website goes on to report that there were 304 major accidents over a six-year period, including "major fires, spills, leaks, explosions, toxic gas releases, flaring, and air contamination." Tragically, Richmond is among the poorest communities in the state of California.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
During much of the 20th century, asbestos was used as a building material in cases where flames or temperature extremes were a concern. As a result, it was usual for oil refineries like the Chevron Oil facilities in California to be made with asbestos-containing materials. One of the other properties of various types of the fibrous mineral is their resistance to chemical reactions. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, counter tops, even protective garments, therefore, commonly contained the fibrous mineral. The ironic thing about asbestos is that although it does a great job of protecting lives and property from the damage done by heat and combustion - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for the purpose for centuries - it also poses significant risks to human well being.
Much of the asbestos was the form called amosite. The brownish color of amosite is a result of iron molecules in its chemical makeup; this also causes amosite to be resistant to corrosive chemicals, such as those produced in facilities owned by Chevron Oil. Although it was disallowed in building materials in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, appeared for many years in labs and refineries across the United States.
Like cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, laminated and molded into working surfaces. As a rule, new items made with transite were innocuous because the asbestos fibers were encapsulated in the transite. As this transite gets older and become prone to crumbling, however, lethal, tiny particles are able to float into the air. In this state, it is said to be friable, which translates to easy to crush. Laboratory and chemical plant kilns also almost always were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad
Friable asbestos is a problem since in this form the fibers are readily released into the atmosphere. Medical conditions like asbestosis can result from inhaling asbestos. Pleural mesothelioma, a rare but almost always deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity), has been shown to be linked with inhaling asbestos. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, as may occur if the tiny particles enter the air and settle on food or drinks, may be the cause of pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.
Since research led to increased understanding of asbestos' serious effects on human health, workers today are protected by strict guidelines regulating the use of asbestos. However, when oil refineries like those owned by Chevron Oil were active throughout the 20th century, asbestos was much more prevalent. And in too many cases people used materials containing asbestos when they did not have the benefit of respirators or other safety gear.
The Time Bomb
Asbestos-related diseases, unlike typical work-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop. It can also be hard to identify asbestos-related ailments since their symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other, less serious conditions. It is extremely important, therefore, that everyone who worked in or spent much time near oil refineries like Chevron Oil facilities notify their doctors about the chance of asbestos exposure. Such information can help doctors make accurate diagnoses; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner it is caught, the higher the chances of survival or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Workers who may have been negligently exposed here should contact a mesothelioma attorney.Sources
Chevron - About Us
Sherman, Scott - Environmental Justice Case Study: West County Toxics Coalition and the Chevron Refinery
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal