Citgo Petroleum refines and markets fuel, lubricants, petrochemicals and a variety of other industrial products. It operates a recognizable chain of consumer-facing gas stations. Citgo Petroleum is currently owned by Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A.
Citgo Petroleum traces its roots back to the early part of the 20th century. The name Citgo was first introduced in 1965. The company was purchased by Occidental Petroleum in 1982, then by The Southland Corporation (the owner of the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores) in 1983. The company entered a relationship with PDVSA in 1986.
Citgo in Illinois
Citgo Petroleum operates a refinery in Lemont, Illinois that employs 550 people. The site is in the process of upgrading its equipment, and recently added a "clean stack" to its skyline. The clean stack combines a Selective Catalytic Reduction Unit and a West Gas Scrubber, via which it purports to reduce emissions. Citgo claims a 98 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions, a 94 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions and a 96 percent reduction in dust.
In the News
In 2009, two plaintiffs (Michael Lewis and Tammy Livingston) claimed injury based on exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas while working at the Lemont, Illinois, Citgo refinery. The suit was brought as an accusation of negligence. The court decided that expert testimony offered by the plaintiffs was inadmissible, and the judgment was in favor of Citgo.
In 2007, Citgo reached a settlement agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a failed inspection. Key areas of concern included the following: missing safety information regarding the pressure relief system design, errant documentation of engineering practices and failure to develop standard operation procedures. OSHA also noted potential fire hazards, a lack of emergency procedures and inadequate employee training and education.
Previous OSHA inspections turned up a serious fall protection violation in 2002.
Citgo Petroleum Refinery in Lemont, Illinois, and Asbestos
For the majority of the 20th century, the mineral called asbestos was used as insulation whenever flames or temperature extremes were a concern. As a result, it was typical for oil refineries such as Citgo Petroleum's Lemont Refinery to be constructed with asbestos-containing materials. One of the other properties of certain forms of asbestos is that they are unaffected by chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was used in safety garments, work surfaces and lab equipment. Asbestos, however, had a significant downside that was either not understood or at times deliberately ignored: serious and often fatal medical conditions were caused by exposure to asbestos.
Most of the asbestos was amosite. The brown tint of amosite comes from iron in its chemical makeup; this also causes amosite to be resistant to acidic chemicals like those used in plants like the Citgo Petroleum Refinery in Lemont, Illinois. Although it was outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was utilized for decades in chemical plants and refineries across the country.
Similar to cement, asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto pipes and ductwork. Generally, new items built with transite were considered safe since the asbestos fibers were encapsulated in the transite. However, when asbestos-containing transite aged, it was prone to becoming powdery, which enabled the deadly, tiny particles to float into the air. That is, such asbestos is friable, a term that is used to describe material that is easily crushed. Laboratory and chemical plant ovens also frequently were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
Friable asbestos is a problem because in this condition the particles are readily released in the air. Breathing asbestos particles can result in conditions like cancer. Another unusual, and often deadly, asbestos-related disease is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of the illness, one which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most common. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma result from swallowing asbestos fibers, which is likely if microscopic particles are released into the air and settle on food or drinks.
Because medical research led to increased understanding of asbestos' serious effects on human health, men and women today are protected by stringent guidelines regulating how to use asbestos. However, when places like Citgo Petroleum Refinery in Lemont, Illinois were built, asbestos was much more commonplace. Any asbestos remaining from that period may yet pose a health hazard if care is not taken during remodeling and demolition jobs.
The Time Bomb
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the resulting diseases may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop - often decades after the worker leaves the employer. The symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma - pain in the chest, dyspnea and a chronic cough - can often be mistaken for the symptoms of other, less serious disorders. People that worked at or spent much time near plants like the Citgo Petroleum Refinery in Lemont therefore should ask their doctors for mesothelioma information. Such information can enable physicians to make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the odds of surviving or at least of utilizing treatments such as mesothelioma surgery.Sources
Citgo - Company History
Citgo - Lemont Refinery
Grist - Oil Refineries are full of asbestos, not just carbon
More Law - Michael Lewis and Tammy Livingston v. Citgo Petroleum Corporation
Reliable Plant - CITGO settles with OSHA on violations at Illinois refinery
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal