Ergon Refining, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, is a processor and transporter of crude oil and a marketer of refined oil products. Ergon also manufactures road maintenance equipment and industrial computer products. The company actively explores for new sources of oil and natural gas and has expanded into real estate development.
Ergon Refining started in the petroleum industry service area in 1954, mainly distributing propane via truck and marketing petroleum products. It has since diversified and expanded into a network of related companies. All told, the organization employs approximately 3,000 people.
Ergon has a large refinery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and also owns and operates a number of oil wells.
In the News
In 2003, Ergon Refining Inc. (along with several other companies) reached a settlement with the EPA regarding emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulates (dust). The settlement also focused on reducing benzene released into the air. The EPA required the refinery to install and implement various control technologies aimed at reducing emissions. The EPA's goal was to bring the plant in line with the Clean Air Act's National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.
Benzene is a highly flammable chemical that is harmful to humans. The seriousness of benzene poisoning depends on the amount and length of exposure. Long-term health effects of benzene poisoning include anemia and excessive bleeding. The Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that long-term exposure to high levels of benzene can lead to leukemia (blood cancer).
Asbestos in Oil Refineries
In the majority of the 1900s, when extreme temperature or fire was a danger, various forms of asbestos were selected as a building material. Materials made with asbestos, accordingly, were frequently used in the building of plants like Ergon Refining. One of the other properties of some types of asbestos is that they are unaffected by chemical reactions. As a result, asbestos was used in bench tops, safety clothes and coating materials. Asbestos, however, carried a significant downside that was either not understood or at times deliberately ignored: grave and often lethal medical conditions were found to be the result of exposure to asbestos.
Amosite was most often the type of asbestos utilized in these plants. When it is mixed with chrysotile, which is resistant to heat and bases but not as impervious to acidic compounds, the amphibole amosite creates materials that are particularly good at preventing damage from corrosive chemicals. This amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was used in labs and chemical plants throughout the United States for many years before being banned in building materials in the 1970s.
As with cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, laminated and molded into working surfaces. As long as it remained solid, this form of asbestos offered little risk. Microscopic particles of asbestos enter into the air, however, as this transite grows older and becomes prone to becoming powdery. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. Laboratory ovens also frequently were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad
When they are friable, asbestos particles are easily dispersed into the environment. Diseases such as asbestosis and cancer can result from breathing asbestos. Another unusual, but often deadly, disease linked to asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural variety of mesothelioma, which attacks the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma result from ingesting asbestos fibers, which is likely if microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or in beverages.
Because research led to more knowledge of the risks of asbestos exposure, workers today are protected by stringent rules controlling the use of asbestos. When facilities such as Ergon Refining were built, however, asbestos was more commonplace. Before present-day safety regulations were enacted, employees frequently toiled without respirators or other protective gear in spaces where asbestos dust clouded the atmosphere.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
In contrast to many work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, asbestos-related illnesses can take many, many years to develop. When a worker starts exhibiting signs such as pain in the chest, dyspnea (i.e., shortness of breath) and a chronic cough, his or her physician may not immediately identify asbestos as a cause, leading to delays in diagnosis. People who worked in or spent much time near places such as Ergon Refining should, therefore, ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. Such information can help physicians to make accurate diagnoses; especially with mesothelioma, the earlier it is caught, the higher the chances of survival or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life by using treatments such as mesothelioma surgery.Sources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Facts About Benzene
Environmental Protection Agency - Ergon Refining, Inc. Clean Air Act Settlement
Ergon - Ergon History
Grist - Oil Refineries are full of asbestos, not just carbon
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal