Orion Refining Corporation became the new name for TransContinental Refining Corporation in 1999. The vote for the name change was in part to reflect the technology for the new millennium. The Orion refinery was the first new one in the United States in over sixteen years and was set to be one of the lowest-cost operators with the most advanced technology for cleaner fuel. However, Orion went bankrupt and sold its refinery to Valero in 2003, which is how it is operating today.
Pollution Lawsuit Filed by the Community
On behalf of 3,000 residents, a lawsuit was filed against Orion Refining Corporation in 2001. Residents claimed that between May 2000 and July 2001 the refinery had dumped more than 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the local area (the St. Charles parish community).
Orion settled the federal lawsuit out of court in 2002, agreeing to implement new pollution controls and to fund St. Charles community programs in the sum of one million dollars. The settlement was to be paid out over the course of four years.
Orion Files Bankruptcy
In 2003, Orion filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 and sold its refinery, which was producing 185,000 barrels of gas per day, to Valero Energy Corporation. The sale, approved by a US Bankruptcy Court, was for a sum in excess of $500 million dollars.
While the community lawsuit was a financial dent for Orion Refining, it never recovered from its massive fire that occurred due to a lightning strike on June 7, 2001. The fire was over 250 feet tall and 265 feet wide and took over 13 hours to extinguish. This was the world's largest tank fire and a big devastation for the refinery.
Orion Refining Corporation began with an optimistic future of leading the oil refineries with cleaner fuel technology. However, it could not withstand misfortune and poor management and was ultimately forced to sell its company.
Oil Refineries and Asbestos
For much of the 1900s, various forms of asbestos were used as an insulator in cases where fire or temperature extremes were a risk. Plants such as Orion Refining Corporation, therefore, were frequently built using materials that contained asbestos. Resistance to reactive chemicals is perhaps a less well-known property of various forms of asbestos. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, benches, even protective garments, therefore, commonly contained the fibrous mineral. There is no doubt that asbestos was extremely effective at protecting against fire or high temperatures. This ability, however, was accompanied by a terrible cost in terms of human health.
Amosite was frequently the kind of asbestos utilized in such facilities. Often called "brown asbestos", amosite is particularly resistant to corrosive substances like those used in Oil Refineries because of the iron in its chemical makeup. Used for many years in the form of asbestos transite in chemical plants, oil refineries and laboratories across the United States, amosite was finally disallowed for construction purposes in the 1970s; however, asbestos-containing materials continued to be used in construction as late as 1999.
Similar to cement, asbestos transite could be laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. This form of asbestos did not offer a health risk while it was solid. With age, however, this transite grows prone to crumbling, allowing tiny particles to flake off into the air. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, which is defined as easily pulverized. The insulation lining of industrial kilns also almost always contained friable asbestos.
The Problem with Friable Asbestos
When friable, asbestos particles are readily released in the environment. If a person inhales these fibers, they can harm the lungs, causing asbestosis. Mesothelioma, an unusual and frequently lethal cancer affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity), has been shown to be linked with exposure to asbestos. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are linked to the ingestion of asbestos fibers, which happens when microscopic particles become airborne and settle on food or drinks.
In the last twenty years scientists and researchers have uncovered much information about the risks associated with asbestos exposure; therefore there are stringent rules controlling its use. When most oil refineries were constructed, however, the use of asbestos was more common. And even now, asbestos from the past may be the source of problems when it is mishandled during demolition and remodeling projects.
The Hidden Danger of Asbestos
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the associated illnesses can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear - often long after a worker leaves the employer. With such a lag time between exposure and the appearance of the resulting disease, the worker might not even associate the current health problem with work done 10 or more years ago. Men and women who were employed by or spent much time around oil refineries should, therefore, ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. In addition, all those who shared homes with these people are also at risk, as unless effective decontamination protocols, such as using on-site showers, were enforced, it was easy for personnel to bring home asbestos on their persons or their clothes. While difficult to treat, mesothelioma surgery is sometimes applicable.Sources
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - ASBESTOS PRODUCTION, IMPORT/EXPORT, USE, AND DISPOSAL
Business Wire - TransContinental Changes Name to Orion Refining Corporation
Business Wire - Valero Acquisition of Orion Refinery to Proceed
National Geographic - Industrial Inferno: Fighting the Mother of All Fires
Louisiana Bucket Brigade - Press Releases, Residents Sue Orion Over Sulfur Dioxide Flare
Tulane - Settlements, Settlement Agreement Regarding Federal Lawsuit