Exxon-Mobil's Torrance refinery processes crude oil pumped from the San Joaquin Valley to the north, which travels via the M-70 pipeline. Currently, the facility has a capacity of approximately 150,000 barrels per day. In addition to gasoline for automobiles, the refinery also produces jet fuel, diesel and LP gas. The Torrance refinery supplies 10 percent of the gasoline sold in the state and a significant amount of the jet fuel used by airliners at Los Angeles International Airport.
The Torrance refinery was built in 1929 by John Barneson, whose primary occupation was to captain sea-going freighters and merchant vessels. The purpose was to have a fueling facility near the harbor to supply oil-burning steam ships docked in Los Angeles. Originally operated by the General Petroleum Corporation, the facility eventually came under ownership of Mobil, which in turn merged with Exxon in 1999.
In April of 2009, an employee sustained serious burns over 80 percent of his body when a coke drum ruptured. Most recently, in January 2010, there was a "flaring event" at the facility.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
For the majority of the 20th century, when extreme heat or flame was a risk, asbestos was used as a building material. Oil refineries like Exxon-Mobil's Torrance refinery, as a result, were frequently built using materials containing asbestos. In addition to being heat-proof and flame-proof, certain types of amphibole asbestos are also particularly resistant to chemical reactions. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, counter tops, even protective clothing, therefore, commonly were made with the fibrous mineral. Asbestos, however, had a major downside that was not known or sometimes deliberately ignored: grave and often fatal medical conditions were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.
For the most part, amosite was the variety of asbestos utilized. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of the asbestos family of minerals and is generally considered more prone to cause disease than serpentine asbestos. Although it was disallowed as a construction material in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, appeared for decades in chemical plants, refineries and laboratories across the country.
Asbestos transite was characterized qualities like cement; it could be molded into working surfaces, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and laminated. As long as asbestos transite remained solid, this form of asbestos offered no immediate risk. Microscopic particles of asbestos are released into the atmosphere, however, as this transite ages and becomes prone to becoming powdery. That is, such asbestos is friable, which translates to easily pulverized. Also, laboratory kilns frequently contained friable asbestos in insulation linings.
The Problem with Friable Asbestos
Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this form the particles are readily dispersed into the air. Medical conditions such as cancer and asbestosis are known to result from the inhalation of asbestos. Another unusual, and often lethal, disease caused by asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of the disease, which affects the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. Swallowing asbestos fibers, which may occur when the tiny particles become airborne and settle on food or in beverages, may result in peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma. The chest wall can also be affected by pleural mesothelioma.
Increased pressure from researchers and concerned citizens resulted in regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When Exxon-Mobil's Torrance refinery was constructed, however, asbestos was much more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from long ago may be the source of danger when it is not disposed of properly during remodeling and demolition projects.
The Hidden Danger of Asbestos
In contrast to many job-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, asbestos-related diseases can take many, many years to develop. When a former worker begins exhibiting signs such as dyspnea (i.e., shortness of breath), chest pain and a persistent cough, his or her doctor might not immediately recognize asbestos exposure as the culprit, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment. Those who worked at or lived around oil refineries like Exxon-Mobil's Torrance refinery should, accordingly, tell their doctors about the possibility of asbestos exposure. Moreover, spouses of these people are also at risk, because unless effective decontamination policies, including the use of on-site showers, were followed, it was common for personnel to bring home asbestos fibers on themselves or their clothing. Those who could have been negligently exposed at a refinery should contact a mesothelioma attorney.Sources
CNNMoney - Exxon Mobil Reports Flaring, Unit Snag At California Refinery
Exxon-Mobil Corporate Website - Torrance Refinery
Reuters - Worker Hurt at Exxon Torrance Refinery
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal