The US Gulf Coast has long become an area that is extremely well known with regard to oil production and crude refinement. The Alliance Refinery in Louisiana, built in 1971, is among the newest oil refineries in the United States and has been described as a premier crude refinery with high conversion capabilities and the ability to meet EPA standards for the production of clean fuels.
The Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse was closed for a period after Hurricane Katrina devastated the US Gulf Coast. In order to get the refinery back online and able to process domestic crude from the Gulf of Mexico via pipeline as well as foreign crude oil via pipeline from West Africa to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a series of renovations were made. ConocoPhillips continues to update this refinery; a plant-wide overhaul of the Alliance Refinery took place during January through March of 2009.
Alliance Refinery by the Numbers
The Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, is located approximately 25 miles to the south of New Orleans. The refinery operates with a staff of approximately 400 employees as part of the ConocoPhillips Refining and Marketing Subsidiary of ConocoPhillips. The operable capacity of this refinery is among the 20 greatest throughput facilities in the United States with 247,000 barrels per calendar day. Within the capacity, the refinery processes primarily light, low-sulfur crude oil to produce gasoline as well as diesel and jet fuels. Additionally, home heating oil and anode petroleum coke are produced.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
For most of the 1900s, in cases where flame or extreme heat was a concern, various forms of asbestos were used as insulation. As a result, it was usual for plants like Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse to be made with materials made with asbestos. Along with being heat-proof and non-flammable, certain forms of asbestos are also especially impervious to reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in benches, lab equipment and protective clothes. Asbestos, however, carried a major downside that was not known or at times deliberately ignored: debilitating and sometimes lethal diseases were caused by exposure to asbestos.
In general, amosite was the variety of asbestos utilized. The brown pigment of amosite is a result of iron molecules in its chemical makeup; this also causes amosite to be resistant to acidic chemicals, such as those manufactured in facilities like Conoco's Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in refineries, laboratories and chemical plants across the US, amosite was eventually banned in building materials in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, molded into working surfaces and laminated just as cement could. This form of asbestos did not present a health hazard while it remained solid. However, when transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) aged, it was prone to becoming powdery, which enabled the lethal, microscopic fibers to flake off into the atmosphere. Asbestos in this condition is called friable, a term that is used to describe material that is easily crushed. The insulation lining of laboratory kilns also almost always contained friable asbestos.
The Dangers of Friable Asbestos
When friable, asbestos fibers are readily dispersed into the air. Inhaling asbestos particles can result in conditions like cancer or asbestosis. Another uncommon, but often fatal, disease linked to asbestos is mesothelioma. The pleural variety of the disease, one which attacks the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. If those airborne particles land on food or in beverages and are then swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can occur, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.
In the past twenty years scientists and researchers have uncovered much information about the risks that accompany being exposed to asbestos, and as a result there are strict rules controlling its use. When places like Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse were built, however, the use of asbestos was much more common. And in far too many cases people worked with materials containing asbestos without the benefit of respirators or other safety gear.
The Time Bomb
Unlike many job-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, asbestos-related diseases may take many, many years to appear. The symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestosis - a persistent cough, shortness of breath and pain in the chest - can often be confused with the symptoms of other conditions. It is extremely important, therefore, that folks that were employed by or spent much time around places such as Conoco's Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse ask their doctors for mesothelioma information. Such information can assist physicians to make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances of surviving or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life with palliative treatments or mesothelioma surgery.Sources
Reuters - UPDATE 1-Conoco's Alliance refinery begins overhaul
ConocoPhillips - About ConocoPhillips
ConocoPhillips - Alliance Refinery
ConocoPhillips - US Refining Industry: Gulf Coast
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal