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Little America Refining

Little America Refining Company is a part of Sinclair Oil Corporation and operates a refinery in Evansville, Wyoming, near the capital city of Casper. The facility refines 20,000 barrels of petroleum products per day, according to Sinclair’s website. Sinclair also operates a refinery in Rawlins, Wyoming.

Sinclair was formed in 1916 with the assets of 11 small petroleum companies. The company has become well known through its pentagon logo, registered in 1959, and brontosaurus used in its advertising, sales and promotions in addition to product labels since 1930. It operates over 2,600 gas stations and convenience stores across 22 states.

Environment

Although the specific compounds were not specified, a notice of violation was issued to the refinery in Evansville, Wyoming, in May 2008 by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Air Quality Division. Atmospheric emissions were released for four months because the company failed to have a lid and cover in place on an API separator. It was also cited for not limiting fuel consumption on a boiler, as requested to by a permit, in November and December 2007.

Other noted violations include that the company did not conduct VOC monitoring of the API Separator Unit between May and December 2007. The faults were noted during the DEQ’s Air Quality Division’s review of the 2007 Annual Compliance Certification that the company submitted by February 2008.

For the Little America refinery and surrounding area, data from the EPA show that the primary pollutants included benzene, carbon tetrachloride, and 1, 3-butadiene, in 2002. Benzene was listed as the highest at 7.52 parts per million. The EPA site also indicated that infant mortality rates nearby were at 4.66 per 1000 live births in 2004, slightly lower than the national average.

Asbestos and Oil Refineries

During much of the 20th century, asbestos was used as a building material whenever fire or excessive heat was a concern. As a result, it was usual for oil refineries like Little America Refining Company to be constructed with asbestos-containing materials. Another property of various types of the fibrous mineral is their resistance to reactive chemicals. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, benches, even protective uniforms, therefore, frequently were made with the fibrous mineral. There is little doubt that asbestos was great at safeguarding against high heat or combustion. This strength, however, came with a significant price in terms of human health.

Most of this asbestos was of the amosite variety. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of the asbestos family of minerals, which is generally thought to be more likely to lead to health problems than serpentine asbestos. Although it was prohibited from use as a construction material in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was used for decades in laboratories and oil refineries throughout the US.

As with cement, asbestos transite could be laminated, molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. This form of asbestos did not pose a health risk while it remained solid. With age, however, this transite becomes prone to becoming powdery, enabling tiny fibers to flake off into the atmosphere. In other words, such asbestos is friable, a term that is used to describe materials that are easily crushed. The insulation lining of laboratory and chemical plant ovens also often were fabricated with friable asbestos.

Why Is Friable Asbestos Bad?

Asbestos fibers, when friable, can be easily dispersed in the air. Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause diseases like asbestosis or cancer. Pleural mesothelioma, an unusual but often deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity), is strongly linked with inhaling asbestos. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are caused by the ingestion of fibers of asbestos, which is likely when the microscopic particles are released into the air and land on food or in beverages.

Since research led to a better knowledge of asbestos’ serious effects on human health, employees today enjoy the protection of strict guidelines regulating the use of asbestos. However, when most oil refineries were built, asbestos was more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from the past may be the source of problems if it is released during demolition and remodeling projects.

A Ticking Bomb

One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is the associated diseases may take many, many years to manifest - frequently long after the worker has left the employer. The symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma - chest pain, chronic coughing and breathlessness - may often be confused with the symptoms of other, less serious disorders. It is very important, therefore, that all who worked at or lived around places like Little America Refining Company tell their doctors about the possibility of asbestos exposure. In addition, spouses and children of these people are also at risk, as unless strict safety measures, like the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were enforced, it was all too common for personnel to bring asbestos on themselves or their clothes. Although mesothelioma survival rate traditionally has been grim, early diagnosis and use of treatments like mesothelioma radiation can improve the prognosis for this disease.

Sources

Sources

Department of Environmental Quality - Wyoming - Notice of Violation
http://deq.state.wy.us/out/downloads/AQ%20NOV%206.18.08.pdf

Sinclair -
http://www.sinclairoil.com/about_sinclair.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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