American Petrofina (APF) was established in 1956 by a Belgian firm, Petrofina S.A. It entered the refining business by purchasing the Panhandle Oil Company in April of that year. The following year, it acquired American Liberty Company. Both of these companies had small refineries and substantial holdings in oil and natural gas. By 1960, its 1,174 oil wells and refineries produced 36,207 barrels of crude oil daily. The company's assets grew in four years' time to nearly $94 million. Fina was one of the first companies to produce lead-free gasoline, a move that bolstered its balance sheet, and in 1980 it stopped producing leaded gas altogether.
Built originally as an oil terminal, the refinery at Port Arthur, Texas, began processing crude in 1937. Acquired by Fina in 1973, it was modernized, and a 770,000-pound, computer-controlled catalytic cracking unit was installed, boosting production to 140,000 barrels per day. Fina merged with Total Petroleum in 1999. It now produces 174,000 barrels per day of medium sour to sweet crude oils. An upgrade is underway to improve the refinery's ability to process heavy crude.
The refinery at Big Springs, Texas, was acquired by ALON Israel Oil Company Ltd. in 2000. It was built in 1928 by Joshua Cosden. Fina purchased it in 1963 and expanded it. Its current production is 77,000 barrels per day. On Presidents' Day 2008 (February 18), an explosion and fire injured four people.
Asbestos at the Refinery
In 2000, the Total Refinery in Port Arthur transferred 49,630 pounds of friable asbestos to the BFI Golden Triangle Landfill in Beaumont.
Asbestos and Oil Refineries
If heat or fire was a concern, various forms of asbestos were the insulation of choice during much of the last century. Plants such as Fina Oil refineries, therefore, were frequently made with materials that contained asbestos. Another property of various kinds of the fibrous mineral is that they are resistant to reactive chemicals. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, counter tops, even protective garments, therefore, frequently were made with the fibrous mineral. There is no doubt that asbestos was great at safeguarding against extreme heat and combustion. This benefit, however, came with a horrible cost in terms of human health.
Generally, amosite was the kind of asbestos used. When it is mixed with chrysotile, which is impervious to heat and bases but not as impervious to acidic compounds, amosite creates materials that are particularly good at protecting against corrosive chemicals. Although it was outlawed as a construction material in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, appeared for decades in oil refineries, labs and chemical plants across the United States.
Asbestos transite had properties like cement; it could be molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto pipes and ductwork. As long as it was solid, this form of asbestos posed no immediate danger. However, when this transite got older, it became prone to becoming powdery, which enabled the deadly, microscopic particles to flake off into the atmosphere. In other words, such asbestos is friable, a term that is used for material that is easily crushed. The insulation lining of industrial ovens also frequently were fabricated with friable asbestos.
The Problem with Friable Asbestos
Asbestos fibers, when friable, can be easily dispersed into the atmosphere. Inhaling asbestos particles can result in diseases such as asbestosis. Another unusual, but often lethal, disease caused by asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural variety of mesothelioma, which affects the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most prevalent. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma result from ingesting fibers of asbestos, which happens when microscopic particles are released into the air and land on food or drinks.
Because medical research led to more understanding of the risks of asbestos exposure, workers today benefit from the protection offered by strict rules controlling how to use asbestos. However, when Fina Oil refineries were built, the use of asbestos was much more commonplace. Before present-day safety regulations were enacted, employees frequently labored without respirators or other protective gear in spaces where asbestos dust clouded the atmosphere.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
Asbestos-related diseases, as opposed to many job-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, may take many, many years to manifest. With such a lag between asbestos exposure and the appearance of the resulting disease, the worker may not associate the current health problem with work done many years ago. Those who worked in or spent much time near plants such as Fina Oil refineries should, accordingly, ask their doctors for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Experimental treatments for the cancer are being developed in hopes to find a mesothelioma cure, and early detection provides patients the highest chance of beating the previously deathly form of cancer.Sources
ALON USA - Big Spring Refinery
EPA.gov - Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)
Funding Universe - FINA, Inc.
News West 9 - Explosion at Big Spring's Alon Refinery
Total Petrochemical USA - Port Arthur Refinery
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal