The refinery that is identified as the "Los Angeles Refining Company" is located in Wilmington, situated on a 300-acre lot near the South Bay. Originally owned by Shell Oil, it was operated by Equilon Enterprises for a number of years before it passed to its current owner, the Tesoro Corporation, in 2007. With a capacity of 97,000 barrels per day, the facility is Tesoro's third largest, producing gasoline, diesel and jet aircraft fuel.
Despite the company's claims, this facility has been liable for several violations, primarily having to do with the company's failure to keep adequate written records, conduct proper inspections and post adequate warning signs.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
In much of the 1900s, whenever fire or extreme temperature was a risk, various forms of asbestos were used as insulation. Facilities such as Los Angeles Refining Company, therefore, were frequently constructed with asbestos-containing materials. A lesser-known property of various forms of asbestos is their resistance to chemicals. Ceiling tiles, insulation, counter tops, even protective uniforms, therefore, often contained the fibrous mineral. There is no question that asbestos was great at protecting against combustion or high temperatures. This ability, however, came with a significant price in terms of human health.
Amosite was often the type of asbestos used in such locations. Frequently called "brown asbestos", amosite is particularly resistant to acidic chemicals like those manufactured in facilities like Los Angeles Refining Company because of the iron in its chemical makeup. Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in oil refineries, laboratories and chemical plants throughout the US, amosite was eventually prohibited from use as a construction material in the 1970s.
Like cement, asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces, sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and laminated. This form of asbestos did not offer a health hazard while it remained solid. With age, however, transite with asbestos-containing material (ACM) grows prone to crumbling, enabling tiny fibers to float into the atmosphere. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, which is defined as easily pulverized. The insulation lining of laboratory and chemical plant ovens also frequently were constructed with friable asbestos.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Friable asbestos is a problem because in this form the fibers are easily dispersed into the atmosphere. If someone breathes these particles, they can harm the lungs, causing asbestosis. In addition, inhaling asbestos has been shown to be the leading causal factor of mesothelioma, a rare but all too often deadly cancer of the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. If those airborne particles land on food or drinks and are then swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma may result, though they are rarer than pleural mesothelioma.
Because medical research yielded more awareness of asbestos' serious effects on human health, men and women today enjoy the protection of strict guidelines regulating how to use asbestos. The use of asbestos was more commonplace, however, when oil refineries like Los Angeles Refining Company were constructed. And in far too many instances workers used materials containing asbestos without the benefit of protective equipment.
The Hidden Danger of Asbestos
Asbestos-related diseases, in contrast to many workplace injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to manifest. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases - chest pain, shortness of breath and chronic coughing - may often be mistaken for the symptoms of other conditions. People who worked in or lived near places like Los Angeles Refining Company should notify their health care professionals about the possibility of exposure to asbestos and ask for mesothelioma information. New treatments, such as mesothelioma surgery, are being developed, and early detection provides patients the best chance to beat the previously deathly disease.Sources
California Department of Toxic Substances Control - Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company - Los Angeles Refinery
Los Angeles Almanac - Los Angeles County Oil Refineries, Locations and Capacities, 2006 (Los Angeles: Given Place Media, 2008).
Tesoro Corporate Website - Tesoro Refineries: Los Angeles (Wilmington) Refinery
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration - CPF 59001; In the Matter of Los Angeles Refining Company, Division of Equilon Enterprises