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Although Pennzoil was originally founded in 1913 in Los Angeles, California, it was purchased in 1955 by a Pennsylvania company that later became recognized as Standard Oil. Standard Oil was originally founded as South Penn in 1908. South Penn's roots go further back, to the Pennsylvania Refining Company in 1886. Between mergers and acquisitions, Pennzoil found itself owning a number of refineries that it later decided to sell. The Pennzoil Refinery in Rouseville, Pennsylvania, was sold to Calumet Lubricants in 2000.

The Fire of 1995

An investigation by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was begun because of an explosion and subsequent fire that injured people and took lives on October 16, 1995, at the Rouseville, Pennsylvania, Pennzoil Refinery. The incident took place at Plant 1, which had crude oil storage tanks for the refinery of fuel, lubricants and motor oil.

Evacuation of the plant, school and community residents ensued from the fire. The fire was subdued a little more than two hours after it began with a total casualty rate of five employees. According to the EPA report, while some oil was observed on a local stream, no materials appear to have been spilled into the waterway and the event did not result in significant environmental damage.

The EPA Chemical Accident Investigation Team (CAIT) deduced two scenarios for why the explosion occurred and came up with a list of factors that contributed to the accident. As part of their report they also provided recommendations to prevent the same type of accident from happening again in the future.

Corrective Actions

Pennzoil has received and complied with several EPA corrective actions over the years. In 1990 they consented to remedying a situation of contaminated groundwater and streams. Their permit expired in 2000, but it is no longer applicable because Pennzoil is no longer involved with hazardous waste management. They are still under obligation, however, to continue with the program completion originally set forth.

While Calumet Lubricants Co. now owns Plant 1, Shell Oil Company owns Plant 2. Plant 2 has since been decommissioned, but Plant 1 is still being operated as a refinery in Rouseville, Pennsylvania.

Oil Refineries and Asbestos

During most of the 20th century, asbestos was used as an insulator when fire or extreme heat was a risk. Oil refineries such as Pennzoil's plants in Pennsylvania, as a result, were generally constructed with asbestos-containing materials. Along with being flame-proof and temperature-resistant, some forms of amphibole asbestos are also particularly resistant to chemical reactions. Due to the kind of work that occurs in oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in factory buildings, but also in coating materials, safety clothes and work surfaces. The ironic thing with asbestos is that although it does a great job of guarding against the damage done by heat and combustion - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for this purpose since ancient times - it also poses significant risks to people's well being.

For the most part, amosite was the kind of asbestos used. Frequently called "brown asbestos", amosite is particularly good at resisting corrosive substances like those produced in plants like Pennzoil refineries because of the iron molecules in its chemical composition. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in laboratories, chemical plants and oil refineries throughout the country, amosite was eventually disallowed as a construction material in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes in the same way cement could. As long as it was solid, this form of asbestos offered no immediate danger. As this transite gets older and become prone to becoming powdery, however, deadly, microscopic particles can float into the air. In this state, it is considered friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. In addition, laboratory ovens often were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad

When they are friable, asbestos particles are easily released in the air. When a person inhales these fibers, they can damage the lungs, resulting in asbestosis. In addition, asbestos exposure is known to be the primary causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, an unusual and almost always deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. When those airborne particles settle on food or drinks and are then swallowed, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma can occur, though they are rarer than pleural mesothelioma.

Increased pressure from activist groups, medical scientists and the media forced the creation of regulations controlling the use of asbestos. However, when plants such as Pennzoil refineries were first operating, asbestos was much more commonplace. And in far too many cases people used materials containing asbestos without the benefit of respirators.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

Asbestos-related diseases, unlike many job-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to manifest. With such a lag between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms, the worker might not even associate the current health problem with work done decades ago. It is extremely important, therefore, that those who worked in or spent much time around facilities like Pennzoil refineries ask their doctors for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Such information can help doctors make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the odds of survival or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life. If caught early there is a chance the disease can be treated; early diagnosis is crucial as there is no mesothelioma cure currently available.



Environmental Protection Agency - EPA Chemical Accident Investigation Report

Environmental Protection Agency - Pennzoil-Quaker State Company - Rouseville Plants 1 and 2 (Shell Lubricants Company)

Funding Universe - Pennzoil-Quaker State Company

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

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

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