Drive south along Hwy. 55 from the Twin Cities, and just before you get to the fork that leads east to Hastings, you'll see the Koch Refinery - 1,200 acres of smoking, belching, oil-processing towers and stacks tucked into a bend in the Mississippi River. Once the poster child for big, bad oil, Koch has repented of its sins and become a model Minnesota corporate citizen.
The Pine Bend Refinery was built in 1955 by the Great Northern Oil Company. Just 17 miles south of Minneapolis, it produced 25,000 barrels of oil per day, most of it coming to the refinery via pipeline from Canada. Koch Industries took control of the refinery in 1969 and renamed it Koch Refining.
Flint Hills Refinery
In the 1970s and '80s, the Pine Bend Refinery was almost synonymous with pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency identified it as a toxic spills site and added to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) in 1986. During the Clinton Administration, Koch was charged with 315 acts of pollution, many of them at the Pine Bend Refinery. In 2000, Koch paid a $6 million criminal fine and an additional $2 million in remediation costs to the Dakota County Park System for discharging aviation fuel into an adjoining wetland and waterway. It was the largest federal environmental fine ever paid in Minnesota.
Koch Industries began to clean up its act, earning several environmental awards, and it changed its name. Today, the Flint Hills Refinery produces 280,500 barrels of oil a day, making it the 14th-largest refinery in the United States.
Asbestos Litigation and Koch Petroleum
Pittsburgh Corning Corporation and Travelers Insurance got into a legal shouting match over responsibility for neglecting to warn workers at the Koch Refinery about asbestos hazards. In a story published in 2004, attorney Rick LaVerdiere said Pat Hosley, an insulator, worked frequently in the 1960s with Pittsburgh Corning's Unibestos insulation, which was used to cover pipelines at Koch Industries' Rosemount oil refinery. According to LaVerdiere, hazardous clouds of asbestos fibers would fill the air when insulators sawed sections of Unibestos to the needed sizes.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
During the greater part of the last century, when extreme temperature or combustion was a concern, various forms of asbestos were used as an insulator. Asbestos-containing materials, therefore, were frequently utilized when building facilities like the Koch Refinery. Resistance to reactive chemicals is another property of various forms of asbestos. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, benches, even protective uniforms, therefore, frequently were made with the fibrous mineral. And while the asbestos did well in preventing the spread of fire and in protecting life and property from excessive heat, it also exposed those same people to significant health risks.
Amosite was often the kind of asbestos utilized in such plants. The brown color associated with amosite comes from iron in its chemical composition; this also makes amosite resistant to acidic chemicals like those used in facilities like the Koch Refinery. Although it was prohibited from use in building materials in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was utilized for many years in oil refineries and chemical plants across the country.
Asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, laminated and molded into working surfaces just as cement could. As a rule, new items formed from transite were innocuous because the asbestos particles were trapped in the transite. As asbestos-containing transite grows older and become prone to crumbling, however, deadly, tiny particles are able to flake off into the atmosphere. Asbestos when it is in this condition is called friable, a term that is used for materials that are easily pulverized. In addition, laboratory and chemical plant ovens frequently contained friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos Bad?
Asbestos particles, when they are friable, are readily released into the environment. Breathing asbestos fibers can lead to diseases such as cancer or asbestosis. Another unusual, and generally deadly, asbestos-related disease is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural variety of the illness, one which attacks the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are caused by the ingestion of asbestos fibers, which is likely when microscopic particles float in the air and settle on food or drinks.
Mounting pressure from news media and citizen groups forced the creation of rules controlling the use of asbestos. However, when plants such as the Koch Refinery were constructed, the use of asbestos was much more common. And even now, asbestos from the past may be the source of problems if it is mishandled during remodeling projects.
The Hidden Danger of Asbestos
Unlike typical work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, asbestos-related illnesses may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear. When a worker starts exhibiting symptoms such as chest pain, dyspnea and a persistent cough, his or her doctor might not at first identify asbestos exposure as a factor, leading to delays in diagnosis. Hence, it is extremely important for all who worked in or resided around places like the Koch Refinery to ask their health care professionals for mesothelioma information. Experimental methods for treating mesothelioma are being developed, like mesothelioma surgery, and early detection provides the patient the highest chance to beat the previously always-fatal disease.Sources
Environment, Health and Safety Online - Polluters (and Other Violators) of the Week 2000
EPA.gov - Sites in Reuse in Minnesota
Flint Hills Resources - Minnesota
Nationmaster.com - Koch Industries, Inc. (http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Koch-Industries,-Inc.)
Litigationdatasource - Asbestos Litigation: PCC, Insurer Clash On Asbestos Liabilities
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Energy Information Administration - U.S. Refineries* Operable Capacity