Despite its paradisiacal name, Blue Island, Illinois, is far from paradise. That's because the former Clark Oil Refinery there had a long history of environmental trouble.
Clark began in 1932, when Emory T. Clark bought a series of gas stations. Just 17 miles south of Chicago, the Blue Island refinery began operating in 1945. The refinery shipped its finished product via the Cal-Sag canal and the Great Lakes, as well as through automated pipelines. By 1970, Clark operated 1,489 stations, and the Blue Island refinery was refining almost 80,000 barrels a day. In 1996, the company reported that it had increased the crude oil throughput capability at the Blue Island refinery by approximately 10,000 barrels per day, introduced light sour crude oil as a lower cost feedstock and improved the FCC unit capability by 25 percent. In 1999, Clark sold its retail gas operations, and it changed its name to Premcor in 2000.
The Beginning of the End
In 1995, 6,000 Blue Island residents and 1,200 students and staff at Eisenhower High School sued Premcor for an assortment of environmental issues and illnesses. Neighbors complained of ashes, gases and other pollutants, and the high school students were taken to the hospital for dizziness and nausea. The refinery was shut down permanently in 2001.
Clark Oil Blue Island Refinery and Asbestos
For almost all of the 20th century, when fire or extreme heat was a risk, the mineral called asbestos was chosen as insulation. Therefore, it was quite common for facilities such as Clark Oil Blue Island Refinery to be built with materials that contained asbestos. Along with being temperature-resistant as well as flame-proof, various forms of asbestos are also particularly impervious to reactive chemicals. In light of the type of work that goes on at oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, was not only used in factory buildings, but also in counter tops, coating materials and protective garments. And though the asbestos worked well in preventing fire damage and in protecting lives from excessive temperatures, it also exposed those same people to significant health risks.
For the most part, amosite was the type of asbestos used. The brownish pigment of amosite is a result of iron molecules in its chemical makeup; this also makes amosite resistant to corrosive substances, such as those manufactured in facilities like Clark Oil Blue Island Refinery. Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in labs and refineries throughout the United States, amosite was finally banned in building materials in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite possessed properties like cement; it could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. As long as it was solid, this form of asbestos posed no immediate hazard. As transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) gets older and become prone to crumbling, however, lethal, microscopic particles are able to flake off into the air. That is, such asbestos is friable, which is defined as easily crushed. Industrial ovens also frequently were fabricated with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos Bad?
Asbestos fibers, when friable, are readily released into the environment. Breathing asbestos particles can cause conditions like asbestosis or cancer. In addition, inhaling asbestos is known to be the leading causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, an unusual and frequently deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium, the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma result from swallowing asbestos fibers, which can occur when the microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or drinks.
During the past twenty years medical researchers have learned much information concerning the risks that accompany asbestos exposure, and therefore there are strict laws regulating its use. When most oil refineries were built, however, asbestos was more common. And in too many instances workers used asbestos-containing materials when they did not have the protection of respirators or other protective gear.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the resulting illnesses can take many, many years to develop - frequently long after the worker has left the employer. With such a long time between exposure and the onset of symptoms, the worker may not even associate the current health problem with work he or she did up to 40 years earlier. Therefore, it is vital for folks that worked at or resided around plants such as Clark Oil Blue Island Refinery to ask their health care professionals for mesothelioma information. Such information can assist physicians to make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner it is caught, the better the chances of surviving or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life with treatments such as mesothelioma surgery if applicable.Sources
Alexander's Gas and Oil Connections - Shell Oil to help clean up the Mississippi River
Funding Universe - Premcor Inc.
United States Securities and Exchange Commission - CLARK REFINING and MARKETING, INC. Form 10-K Annual Report for the fiscal year ended December 31, 1996
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
Matthew Walberg - $120 million judgment against former Clark Oil refinery reinstated: Blue Island residents' suit restored by state appellate court