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Hunt Refining

Hunt Refining Company was founded as an asphalt refining company in 1946 by oilman H. L. Hunt after his discovery of asphaltic crude oil in Gilbertown, Alabama. The original facility had the capacity to process 3,500 barrels of crude per day. Today, the company is headquartered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where it owns and operates a petroleum refining facility.

The New Refinery and Expansion

The newer refinery has a capacity to process 52,000 barrels of crude oil per day, which includes a 15,000-barrel-per-day hydrotreater as well as a 16,000-barrel-per-day coker. In 2008, Hunt Refining announced that it would install two new units to increase processing by 30 percent to 69,000 barrels per day. This increase will double the amount of gasoline and diesel production for the southeastern United States. Construction on the units began in late 2008 and was set to be completed in 2010. The project was projected to cost anywhere from $450 million to $750 million and make Hunt Refining the largest private investment in Tuscaloosa since the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International $600 million expansion in 2000.

Clean Air Act

The Hunt Refining Company and Hunt Southland Refining Company agreed to pay a $400,000 civil penalty, as well as $48.5 million for upgraded pollution control equipment at three refineries. The settlement amount was paid to resolve multiple violation of the Clean Air Act. Hunt Refinery will also spend $475,000 on projects to better the environment and the community.

Asbestos in Oil Refineries

For much of the 20th century, asbestos was chosen as insulation whenever fire or temperature extremes were a risk. Plants like those owned by Hunt Refining Company, therefore, were often constructed using materials that contained asbestos. A lesser-known property of certain forms of the fibrous mineral is that they are unaffected by chemical reactions. Given the type of work that goes on at oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in plant structures, but also in benches, lab equipment and protective garments. The ironic thing about asbestos is that although it does very well at protecting lives and property from the harm associated with fire or high temperatures - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for this purpose throughout history - at the same time it poses significant risks to human health.

Most of the asbestos was amosite. The brownish pigment of amosite comes from iron molecules in its chemical makeup; this also makes amosite resistant to corrosive substances like those used in oil refineries. This amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was utilized in labs, refineries and chemical plants throughout the United States for many years before it was outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite had properties similar to cement; it could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, molded into working surfaces and laminated. This form of asbestos did not offer a health risk while it remained solid. With age, however, this transite grows prone to crumbling, enabling microscopic particles to flake off into the air. In this state, it is said to be friable, a term that is used to describe materials that are easily crushed. Laboratory and chemical plant ovens also almost always were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem

When friable, asbestos fibers are readily dispersed in the atmosphere. Medical conditions like asbestosis are known to result from inhaling asbestos. Another uncommon, but generally deadly, disease caused by asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most prevalent. Swallowing asbestos fibers, as can occur if the tiny fibers enter the air and settle on food or drinks, can lead to pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.

In the past twenty years medical researchers have learned a lot about the risks associated with being exposed to asbestos, and therefore there are stringent guidelines regulating its use. However, when facilities such as Hunt Refining Company's refineries were first operating, asbestos was much more common. Before present-day rules were enacted, workers often toiled without respirators or other protective gear in environments where asbestos particles filled the air.

The Ticking Bomb

As opposed to typical on-the-job injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the incident, asbestos-related diseases may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop. When a former employee begins exhibiting symptoms such as chronic coughing, difficulty breathing and chest pain, his or her physician may not at first identify asbestos as a factor, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. It is extremely important, therefore, that everyone that were employed by or spent much time around Hunt Refining Company inform their physicians about the possibility of exposure to asbestos. In addition, spouses and children of these people are also at risk, as unless effective decontamination protocols, including the use of on-site showers, were enforced, it was all too easy for personnel to bring asbestos fibers on their persons or their clothing. If workers believe they have been negligently exposed to asbestos they should contact a mesothelioma attorney.

Sources

Sources

Environmental Leader - Hunt Refining Settles Clean Air Act Case for $49 million
http://www.environmentalleader.com/2007/10/02/hunt-refining-settles-clean-air-act-case-for-49-million/

Hunt Refining Company - About Hunt Refining
http://huntrefining.com/

Oil and Gas Journal - Hunt to Boost Output at Tuscaloosa, AL Refinery
http://www.ogj.com/index/article-display/319652/articles/oil-gas-journal/processing/hunt-to-boost-output-at-tuscaloosa-ala-refinery.html

The Garrison Barrett Group - Hunt Refining
http://www.garrisonbarrett.com/what-interiors-hunt-refining.html

Tuscaloosa News - Hunt Plans $500 million Expansion
http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060721/NEWS/607210333/1007/NEWS04

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

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Hunt Refining Company and Hunt Southland Refining Company Settlements
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/hunt.html

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