The Exxon Corporation, arguably one of the most polluting organizations on the planet, operates two refineries in the state of Louisiana. One is located in Baton Rouge, while the other is in Chalmette, just a few miles east of New Orleans.
According to a 1999 Congressional report, Exxon's Louisiana refineries were among several that failed to report hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic emissions.
According to the informational website Manta, the Chalmette facility, located on the St. Bernard Highway between New Orleans and Poydras, employs approximately 650 workers and has a capacity of 193,000 barrels per day. The Baton Rouge refinery has a capacity of over half a million barrels a day and is the second-largest such facility in the United States.
Both refineries were shut down as a result of Hurricane Gustav in 2008; these were restarted in September of that year.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
Whenever excessive heat or fire was a danger, various forms of asbestos were the insulating material of choice during most of the 1900s. Plants such as Exxon's Louisiana refineries, as a result, were frequently built with materials containing asbestos. Another property of some forms of the fibrous mineral is their resistance to reactive chemicals. Floor tiles, insulation, counter tops, even protective uniforms, therefore, commonly were made with the fibrous mineral. There is no doubt that asbestos was great at protecting against combustion or extreme heat. This strength, however, came with a horrible cost in terms of human health.
Amosite was most often the kind of asbestos utilized in these plants. When mixed with chrysotile, which is impervious to heat and bases but not as resistant to acids, amosite creates materials that are especially good at protecting against corrosive substances. Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in refineries and chemical plants across the United States, amosite was eventually banned for construction purposes in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces just as cement could. Generally, new items built with transite were considered safe since the asbestos particles were encapsulated in the transite. However, as this transite aged, it was prone to becoming powdery, which caused the deadly, microscopic fibers to flake off into the atmosphere. That is, such asbestos is friable, a term used to describe materials that are easily pulverized. Also, industrial kilns almost always contained friable asbestos in insulation linings.
The Problem with Friable Asbestos
Asbestos fibers, when friable, can be readily released in the atmosphere. If someone inhales these fibers, they can harm the lungs, resulting in asbestosis. Another uncommon, and often fatal, asbestos-related disease is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of mesothelioma, which affects 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 subsequently swallowed, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma may result, although they are rarer than pleural mesothelioma.
During the last twenty years medical researchers have uncovered a lot about the risks that accompany asbestos exposure, and therefore there are strict laws regulating its use. When oil refineries like Exxon's Louisiana refineries were constructed, however, the use of asbestos was more commonplace. Before modern safety regulations were enacted, workers often toiled without respirators in spaces where asbestos particles filled the atmosphere.
The Time Bomb
One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is the resulting illnesses may take many, many years to develop - frequently long after the worker leaves the employer. It can also be challenging to diagnose asbestos-related ailments because their symptoms resemble the symptoms of other, less serious conditions. Accordingly, it is very important for everyone that were employed by or resided near places such as Exxon's Louisiana refineries to ask their doctors for mesothelioma information. Experimental ways to combat mesothelioma are being developed, and early detection provides patients the best chance receive treatments like mesothelioma surgery.Sources
Manta - Exxon Mobil Refinery
Reuters - Exxon Restarting Louisiana Refineries After Gustav
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US House of Representatives - Oil Refineries Fail to Report Millions of Pounds of Harmful Emissions (Prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Minority Staff Special Investigations Division Committee on Government Reform, 10 November 1999)
Walsh, Bill and Steve Cannizaro - Group Is Urging Oil Refineries to Stop Using Deadly Chemical (Times Picayune, 15 October 2003)