Resources for Patients and their Families

Laketon Refining

The oil refinery at Laketon, Indiana, has not produced a single barrel of oil since 1995. It sits empty and idle on Ogden Road in Laketon, as it has since its permanent closure in 1996. In an industry full of big players, Laketon was never very large. The asphalt maker's certified capacity in 1980 was 8,500 barrels per day.

The company got its start just after World War II, when Fred Fehsenfeld, Sr., joined his father in an asphalt trucking business. He went on to purchase refineries, including the Laketon Refinery. The refinery received its crude oil via pipeline from Tecumseh Pipe Line Company. In 1995, Laketon sued its supplier when Tecumseh decided it wanted to use the line for natural gas. Tecumseh also sued, saying Laketon did not hold specific title to the storage tank it leased from Tecumseh. The two companies settled out of court, but by then Laketon was on its way to being shut down.

Asbestos and Oil Refineries

In situations where combustion or extreme temperature was a concern, the mineral called asbestos was the insulator of choice during much of the 20th century. Materials that contained asbestos, therefore, were frequently utilized when erecting petroleum processing facilities like the Laketon Refinery. In addition to being fireproof as well as heat-proof, certain kinds of asbestos are also particularly resistant to reactive chemicals. In light of the nature of the work that occurs in oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, was not only used in plant structures, but also in bench tops, lab equipment and safety clothing. And though the asbestos worked well in preventing fire damage and in protecting people and equipment from excessive heat, the mineral also exposed people who used it or worked around it to significant health risks.

For the most part, amosite was the variety of asbestos used. Frequently called "brown asbestos", the amphibole form of asbestos known as amosite is particularly resistant to corrosive substances like those used in facilities like the Laketon Refinery because of the iron in its chemical composition. This amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was used in chemical plants, refineries and laboratories throughout the US for decades before it was banned for construction purposes in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, laminated and molded into working surfaces just like cement could. As long as it was solid, this form of asbestos offered little risk. As this transite ages and become prone to crumbling, however, lethal, microscopic particles are able to float into the air. Asbestos in this state is considered friable, which means easy to pulverize. Laboratory and chemical plant ovens also frequently were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

Asbestos particles, when they are friable, can be readily dispersed into the air. Diseases like cancer and asbestosis can result from breathing asbestos. Another rare, and often lethal, asbestos-related disease is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of mesothelioma, one which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. When those particles of asbestos in the air land on food or in drinks and are then ingested, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma may occur, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.

Since research resulted in more understanding of the risks of asbestos exposure, men and women today benefit from the protection offered by strict regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When oil refineries were built, however, asbestos was more prevalent. Before modern laws were put into place, workers often toiled without protective equipment in spaces where asbestos particles clouded the atmosphere.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

In contrast to typical on-the-job injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, asbestos-related diseases can take many, many years to develop. When a former worker starts showing symptoms such as shortness of breath, a chronic cough and pain in the chest or abdomen, his or her physician might not immediately recognize asbestos exposure as a factor, leading to delays in diagnosis. It is vital, therefore, that all that worked in or lived around oil refineries such as the Laketon Refinery ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. In addition, family members and others who shared homes with these people are also in danger, because unless strict decontamination protocols, like the use of workplace-only clothing and on-site showers, were enforced, it was all too easy for employees to bring home asbestos dust on themselves or their clothes. In some instances, mesothelioma surgery is an appropriate treatment.



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Open Jurist - 61 F3d 906 Laketon Refining Corporation v. Tecumseh Pipe Line Company - Laketon Asphalt Refining, Inc., Plaintiff-appellant, v. United States Department of the Interior and Cecil Andrus, secretary of the United States Department of The Interior, Defendants-appellees

National Petrochemical and Refiners Association - NPRA United States Refining and Storage Capacity Report

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University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

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