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Greka Energy

The Greka Corporation's Santa Maria, California, refinery is one of two such facilities located in that city (the other one is owned and operated by Conoco-Phillips). The smaller of the two, Greka's refinery has a capacity of approximately 9,500 barrels a day.

Greka's Santa Maria facility has changed hands several times since its construction in 1935. Owners have included Conoco-Phillips, which closed the facility in 1993, and Saba Petroleum, which purchased it the following year and restarted its operations in 1996. The refinery came under Greka ownership in 1999.

A Major Polluter

The Santa Maria Refinery has been the target of several investigations over the years regarding its environmental impact. According to a 1998 report by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, the facility has been responsible for excessive levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide, both of which are known carcinogens. Despite attempts by Greka management to address these problems, much of the equipment was found to be leaking toxins, and the plant was again shut down in 2004.

In 2007, the EPA discovered that Greka was dumping oil into wells, contaminating drinking water, and falsifying records on toxic emissions. To date, Greka has paid $6 million in fines, penalties and restitutions.

Greka Corporation's Santa Maria Refinery and Asbestos

In much of the 1900s, asbestos was chosen as an insulator whenever flames or temperature extremes were a danger. Facilities such as Greka Corporation's Santa Maria refinery, as a result, were frequently constructed with materials containing asbestos. Resistance to chemical reactions is another property of certain forms of asbestos. Floor tiles, insulation, benches, even protective garments, therefore, commonly contained the fibrous mineral. One of the ironic things with asbestos is that while it does superbly guarding against the harm done by extreme heat and combustion - it is one of the best insulators known and has been used for this purpose throughout history - it also poses serious risks to people's well being.

Amosite was almost always the type of asbestos used in these plants. Often referred to as "brown asbestos", amosite is particularly good at resisting corrosive chemicals like those used in oil refineries because of the iron molecules in its chemical makeup. This amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was utilized in chemical plants, refineries and laboratories throughout the US for decades before being outlawed as a construction material in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and molded into working surfaces in the same way cement could. As long as asbestos transite was solid, this form of asbestos offered no immediate danger. However, as asbestos-containing transite aged, it became prone to becoming powdery, which caused the deadly, microscopic particles to flake off into the atmosphere. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, a term that is used for material that is easily crushed. Laboratory and chemical plant ovens also frequently were fabricated with friable asbestos in insulation linings.

Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?

Friable asbestos is dangerous since in this form the particles can be readily dispersed in the environment. Medical conditions such as asbestosis are known to result from the inhalation of asbestos. In addition, exposure to asbestos is known to be the primary causal factor of mesothelioma, an unusual and almost always deadly disease of the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma result from swallowing asbestos fibers, which can occur if microscopic particles become airborne and settle on food or drinks.

Because research yielded a better knowledge of asbestos' serious effects on human health, employees today are protected by strict laws regulating the use of asbestos. When Greka Corporation's Santa Maria refinery was constructed, however, asbestos was much more prevalent. Before modern safety regulations were put into place, employees frequently labored without respirators in environments where asbestos dust clouded the atmosphere.

The Hidden Hazard of Asbestos

Unlike most workplace injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, asbestos-related diseases can take many, many years to develop. When a worker starts exhibiting signs such as shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea) and pain in the chest or abdomen, his or her physician may not immediately recognize asbestos as the culprit, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment. People that were employed by or lived near sites like Greka Corporation's Santa Maria refinery therefore should tell their health care professionals about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Such information can enable doctors make a timely diagnosis; especially with pleural mesothelioma, the sooner it is caught, the higher the odds of surviving or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Those who could have been negligently exposed at a refinery should seek legal counsel with a mesothelioma attorney.

Sources

Sources

US Environmental Protection Agency - California Refinery Fined $1 Million for Breaking Drinking Water Laws
http://yosemite.epa.gov/...OpenDocument

Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District Website - Significant Risk Facilities: Greka Energy Corporation Santa Maria Refinery
http://www.sbcapcd.org/airtoxics/GrekaSRS/SMR/greka_smr.htm

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/EHSRM/ASB/acmimages3.html

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/EHSRM/HAZEXCEPTIONS/a.html

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