Resources for Patients and their Families

Murphy Oil USA

Since 1951, the Superior, Wisconsin, oil refinery has been processing crude oil for Murphy Oil USA. The oil processed by the plant originates in fields in western Canada and is piped to the Wisconsin refinery. Gasoline accounts for the largest percentage of the 38,000 barrels of oil refined at the Murphy Oil refinery, but heating oil, asphalt, kerosene and diesel fuel are also made.

Throughout its history, the Superior refinery has faced fines from the EPA for environmental emissions and lawsuits from former employees, but despite its troubled past, the refinery has made efforts to control its pollution and to expand the refinery. In 2002, the Murphy Oil refinery underwent renovations to decrease the amount of toxins released into the environment, and a year later, the refinery planned an extensive $6 billion expansion.

An Environmental and Health Hazard?

Murphy Oil USA has found itself named in a large number of asbestos and other injury-related lawsuits. Some of these could have resulted from the excessive amounts of asbestos present in the construction of the refinery. Renovations done on the refinery in 2003 went $1 million over budget due to an increased load for asbestos abatement.

Toxic emissions from wastewater and air pollution also plague the nearby environment and residents of Superior, Wisconsin. Heavy metals, nitrogen oxide, oils and grease, phenols and ammonia nitrogen have all found their way into the air and water of the town of Superior and Superior Bay from their origin at Murphy Oil's refinery.

Murphy Oil USA and Asbestos

Whenever flame or heat was a risk, the mineral called asbestos was the insulating material preferred by builders for the majority of the last century. Therefore, it was usual for oil refineries such as Murphy Oil USA's Superior, Wisconsin, oil refinery to be built with asbestos-containing materials. A lesser-known property of various kinds of the fibrous mineral is their resistance to reactive chemicals. As a result, asbestos was used in lab equipment, counter tops and protective garments. Asbestos, however, had a notable downside that was either not known or sometimes deliberately ignored: grave and sometimes fatal diseases were caused by exposure to asbestos.

Much of this asbestos was of the amosite variety. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of asbestos and is commonly thought to be more apt to result in disease than the serpentine form. Although it was disallowed in building materials in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was used for decades in refineries, labs and chemical plants across the country.

Asbestos transite could be laminated, molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes in the same way cement could. This form of asbestos did not offer a health hazard so long as it remained solid. As this transite gets older and become prone to becoming powdery, however, deadly, microscopic particles are able to float into the air. In this state, it is considered friable, a term used for material that is easily crushed. In addition, laboratory kilns often were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.

Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem

Asbestos fibers, when friable, are readily released into the air. Inhaling asbestos fibers can lead to diseases such as asbestosis. Pleural mesothelioma, an unusual and all too often lethal cancer affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity), is strongly linked with exposure to asbestos. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are caused by the ingestion of asbestos fibers, which can occur when microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or in beverages.

In the last twenty years medical researchers have learned much information concerning the risks that accompany asbestos exposure; therefore there are strict rules controlling its use. When plants such as the Murphy Oil refinery were built, however, asbestos was more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from the past may be the source of danger when it is mishandled during demolition projects.

The Lurking Hazard of Asbestos

As opposed to typical work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, asbestos-related diseases can take many, many years to develop. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases - a persistent cough, shortness of breath and chest pain - can easily be mistaken for the symptoms of other, less serious conditions. Those who worked at or spent much time near plants like Murphy Oil USA's Superior, Wisconsin, oil refinery should therefore inform their health care professionals about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Experimental drugs are being discovered along with treatments like mesothelioma radiation, and early detection provides the patient and his or her doctor the highest chance to beat the cancer despite the generally low mesothelioma survival rate.


Sources - Dockets - Sources - Meeting Minutes 5 June 2003

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog



Life After Cancer: What Survivorship Means for These Individuals

Baylor Mesothelioma Doctor Has High Hopes for Preoperative Immunotherapy

Health Insurance for Cancer Treatment: What to Know