The ExxonMobil refinery in Joliet, Illinois, began operating in the early 1970s. Currently, the refinery's production capacity is 236,600 barrels per calendar day. In the early 2000s, the refinery began to consider increasing tar sands processing at the facility. Additionally, a CCUP plan was considered. The Crude/Coker Utilization Project was meant to increase throughput at the refinery, and construction was to be completed by August of 2009.
Joliet Refinery Not Without Its Share of Challenges
While many oil refineries in Illinois and elsewhere - owned by ExxonMobil and a wide variety of other oil companies and agencies - have consistently performed without issue, the Joliet Refinery has had a number of reported issues. The Illinois Daily Journal reported in December of 2008 that the Joliet Refinery is on a list of the 101 most dangerous refineries in the United States.
This information, provided in part thanks to a report issued by the Center for American Progress, indicated that the Joliet Refinery uses hydrofluoric acid in the alkalization process that creates gasoline from crude oil. This process is more dangerous than sulfuric acid or solid acid catalyst methods that are used in the majority of US refineries.
It is worth noting, however, that although the ExxonMobil Joliet Refinery uses a process that is potentially more dangerous, the corporation and the plant have entered into an agreement with OSHA to create training and education programs related to issues relevant to current and future employees and to promote a culture focused on maintaining zero safety incidents.
Asbestos in ExxonMobil refinery in Joliet
In the greater part of the 1900s, when heat or combustion was a danger, the mineral called asbestos was chosen as a building material. Materials made with asbestos, accordingly, were frequently used when constructing petroleum processing plants like the ExxonMobil refinery in Joliet. In addition to being fireproof and heat-proof, various kinds of amphibole asbestos are also especially impervious to reactive chemicals. As a result, asbestos was utilized in work surfaces and protective clothing. One of the ironic things about asbestos is that although it does a fine job of protecting lives and property from the damage associated with fire or high temperatures - it is one of the best insulators known and has been used for this purpose throughout history - at the same time it poses significant risks to human health.
For the most part, amosite was the variety of asbestos utilized. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of the asbestos family of minerals, which is generally thought to be more prone to cause health problems than the serpentine form. Although it was disallowed in building materials in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was utilized for many years in refineries and laboratories throughout the United States.
Asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork, laminated and molded into working surfaces just as cement could. As long as it remained solid, this form of asbestos offered almost no danger. Microscopic particles of asbestos enter into the air, however, as asbestos-containing transite gets older and becomes prone to crumbling. In other words, such asbestos is friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. In addition, laboratory ovens often were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos fibers, when friable, can be readily dispersed in the atmosphere. Diseases like cancer can result from breathing asbestos. In addition, asbestos exposure is known to be the leading cause of pleural mesothelioma, a rare and frequently lethal disease affecting the mesothelium, the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. If those airborne particles settle on food or drinks and are then ingested, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma may occur, though they are more rare than pleural mesothelioma.
Since scientific inquiry yielded a better understanding of asbestos' serious effects on human health, employees today benefit from the protection offered by stringent rules controlling how to use asbestos. The use of asbestos was more common, however, when facilities such as the ExxonMobil refinery in Joliet were constructed. And in all too many cases workers used materials containing asbestos without the benefit of respirators or other protective gear.
The Lurking Hazard of Asbestos
Asbestos-related diseases, as opposed to many workplace injuries, which are readily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop. With such a lengthy time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms, a worker might not connect the current condition with work done up to 40 years ago. Men and women who were employed by or lived around oil refineries like ExxonMobil's Joliet refinery should therefore ask their health care professionals for mesothelioma information. New treatments like mesothelioma surgery are being developed, and early detection provides the patient the best chance of beating the previously deathly disease.Sources
ExxonMobil - Corporate Information
Fluoride Action Network - Criticisms of Joliet Refinery
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Department of Labor OSHA - Alliance with ExxonMobil Joliet Refinery
Vp-mobile.com - Joliet, Illinois Business Directory