Ergon is headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi. The company processes and transports crude oil. It also markets refined oil products, manufactures road maintenance equipment and industrial computer products, explores for new sources of oil and natural gas and has expanded into real estate development.
Ergon Refining got its start in 1954. At the time, it focused on trucking to distribute propane. It soon branched into petroleum marketing. Today, Ergon is a large, diversified company that employs some 3,000 people.
Ergon operates a large refinery in Newell, West Virginia (as well as a plant in Vicksburg, Mississippi).
In the News
In 2002, Ergon West Virginia received relatively poor ratings in terms of pollution and waste generation. In measures of total environmental releases and air releases of potentially harmful substances, the facility ranked in the lower half of US companies. Top risks noted in the study include benzene and toluene.
What is Benzene?
Benzene is a chemical naturally found in crude oil that can be harmful to humans. It is highly flammable and is a clear or light yellow liquid at room temperature. The seriousness of benzene poisoning depends on the amount and length of exposure. The Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that long-term exposure to high levels of benzene can lead to leukemia (blood cancer). Other long-term health effects of benzene poisoning include anemia and excessive bleeding.
Asbestos at Ergon Refining's Plant in West Virginia
If combustion or excessive heat was a concern, asbestos was the insulation of choice in most of the 1900s. Materials made with asbestos, therefore, were commonly used when erecting oil refineries such as Ergon Refining's plant in West Virginia. Resistance to reactive chemicals is perhaps a less well-known property of various types of the fibrous mineral. As a result, asbestos was utilized in safety garments, coating materials and bench and counter tops. There is little doubt that asbestos was extremely effective at safeguarding against high temperatures or combustion. This strength, however, came with a major price in terms of human health.
Generally, amosite was the kind of asbestos used. The brownish pigment associated with amosite is a result of iron in its chemical makeup; this also makes amosite resistant to acidic substances like those used in plants like Ergon Refining's plant in West Virginia. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in oil refineries, chemical plants and laboratories across the US, amosite was finally prohibited from use for construction purposes in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite displayed properties similar to cement; it could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto pipes and ductwork. As long as it was solid, this form of asbestos posed little risk. Tiny fibers of asbestos enter into the atmosphere, however, as asbestos-containing transite grows older and becomes prone to crumbling. That is, such asbestos is friable, a term that is used for material that is easy to pulverize. In addition, laboratory and chemical plant kilns frequently were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this state the fibers are readily dispersed in the atmosphere. If a person inhales these particles, they can damage the lungs, causing asbestosis or cancer. Another rare, and often fatal, disease caused by asbestos is mesothelioma. The pleural form of the illness, which affects the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. If those particles of asbestos in the air land on food or drinks and are then swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can result, though they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.
Because research resulted in increased understanding of the risks of asbestos exposure, employees today are protected by strict regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When facilities such as Ergon Refining's plant in West Virginia were first operating, however, asbestos was much more common. And even now, asbestos from long ago may be the source of danger when it is not properly contained during remodeling and demolition projects.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
In contrast to typical on-the-job injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, asbestos-related illnesses can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to manifest. The symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestosis - chronic coughing, breathlessness and pain in the chest - can often be confused with those of other, less serious disorders. So, it is extremely important for those that were employed by or resided near places such as Ergon Refining's plant in West Virginia to inform their doctors about the possibility of exposure to asbestos. Such information can enable doctors make accurate diagnoses; the sooner it is caught, the better the chances of a high mesothelioma survival rate or eligibility for treatments like mesothelioma radiation.Sources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Facts About Benzene
Ergon - Ergon History
Grist - Oil Refineries are full of asbestos, not just carbon
Scorecard - Environmental Release Report: Ergon West Virginia Inc.
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal