Resources for Patients and their Families

Convent Refinery

Convent refinery, located 30 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is owned by Motiva Enterprises, LLC. The 4,000-acre facility currently has a capacity to produce 235,000 barrels per day. It is the 26th largest refinery in the United States by capacity. Originally built by Texaco in 1967, the refinery primarily produces crude oil and typically delivers it via pipeline but can also transport by ship through two docks located on the nearby Mississippi River.

Of the facility’s total acreage, 750 are devoted to processing equipment. Refining process units are purposed for atmospheric and vacuum crude distillation, fluid catalytic cracking, catalytic reforming, resid hydrocracking, hydrotreating, alkylation, hydrogen generation and sulfur recovery. The rest of the property is maintained as a surrounding greenbelt.

Health and Safety

Motiva describes its full commitment to health and safety, especially in the workplace, on its website. It is dedicated to complying with health, safety and environmental laws and regulations. The company also maintains a Crisis Management Team of 205 staff members.

According to the EPA, background cancer risks around the facility are 14.34 in a million due to air pollution, while the major risk is around 1.33, based on a 2002 risk estimate. The primary pollutants listed were carbon tetrachloride, benzene, and acetaldehyde. Mortality rates, based on 2004 data, were somewhat higher in St. James Parish than in Louisiana and the nation as a whole. There were no figures available on asbestos content at the facility.

Additional Information

Motiva announced plans to shut down the plant’s crude unit and reformer at the end of January 2010 for five to six weeks. The company said this was for planned maintenance.

Oil Refineries and Asbestos

For much of the 20th century, whenever excessive heat or combustion was a risk, various forms of asbestos were used as an insulator. Asbestos-containing materials, accordingly, were commonly utilized when building oil refineries like Convent Refinery. A lesser-known property of certain kinds of asbestos is that they are resistant to reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in protective clothes, benches and lab equipment. Asbestos, however, had a significant downside that was either not known or at times deliberately ignored: serious and sometimes lethal medical conditions were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.

In general, amosite was the type of asbestos utilized. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of asbestos, which is commonly thought to be more prone to result in health problems than serpentine asbestos. Used for decades in the form of asbestos transite in chemical plants and laboratories throughout the United States, amosite was finally disallowed in building materials in the 1970s.

As with cement, asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces. As a rule, new items built with transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos particles were trapped in the transite. Microscopic particles of asbestos are released into the atmosphere, however, as this transite ages and becomes prone to becoming powdery. In this state, it is considered friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. In addition, laboratory ovens almost always contained friable asbestos in insulation linings.

Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?

Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this form the fibers can be easily released into the environment. Diseases such as cancer and asbestosis are known to result from being exposed to airborne asbestos. Another uncommon, and often lethal, asbestos-related disease is mesothelioma. The pleural form of mesothelioma, one which attacks the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, as is easy to do if those tiny fibers float in the air and settle on food or in drinks, can result in pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.

Because scientific inquiry yielded a better knowledge of the risks of asbestos exposure, people today are protected by stringent rules controlling how to use asbestos. Asbestos use was more commonplace, however, when places like Convent Refinery were first operating. Before modern laws were enacted, employees often toiled without protective equipment in spaces where asbestos particles clouded the atmosphere.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

Asbestos-related diseases, in contrast to many job-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, may take many, many years to manifest. It can also be hard to diagnose asbestos-related diseases because their symptoms are similar to those of other disorders. Therefore, it is extremely important for all who worked at or spent much time near places like Convent Refinery to ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. Furthermore, spouses and children of these people are also in danger, as unless strict decontamination protocols, like using on-site uniforms and showers, were in place, it was easy for employees to bring home asbestos on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothing. When found early, the possibility that the cancer can be treated using techniques like mesothelioma surgery increases.

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