Phillips Petroleum Company opened the Phillips petroleum fertilizer plant in 1966. Sold to Farmland in December, 1988, it was converted to a nitrogen fertilizer plant, and then sold again in 2003 to Koch Nitrogen Company, which today still owns the facility.
Little information exists on the operation of the plant while it was controlled by Phillips, or on the facility’s past or present capacity. Farmland, prior to selling much of its assets, sold $1 billion of fertilizer annually as one of the largest fertilizer manufacturers in the country.
Koch Nitrogen Company declares its dedication to the environment on its website, for both the safety of its employees as well as the public. It has won multiple awards and has supported various communities, such as Greensboro, Kansas. Currently, it is one of the largest producers and marketers of nitrogen fertilizer in the world.
Reports sent by the site to the EPA list a range of chemicals that have been released into the environment. Ammonia is listed as the primary pollutant, the levels of which have decreased since the final sale of the site in 2003, but which are still high. Copper compounds, lead, methanol and nitrate compounds were still being released in high levels, according to data as recent as 2008.
The EPA also indicates that, in the Beatrice area, there is a 4.14 in a million major cancer risk, and a background risk of 13.00. Infant mortality in the area is higher than the national average. Other pollutants found in high concentrations in the area include carbon tetrachloride, benzene and 1,3-butadiene. These and the levels of polluting chemicals released by the fertilizer plant suggest that it is a contributor to the overall significant level of pollution in the area.
Philips Petroleum Fertilizer Plant and Asbestos
For the majority of the 1900s, when heat or fire was a danger, the mineral called asbestos was used as an insulator. Materials made with asbestos, accordingly, were frequently used when building facilities like Philips Petroleum Fertilizer Plant. One of the other properties of various kinds of asbestos is that they are resistant to reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was used in bench and counter tops, lab equipment and safety clothing. Asbestos, however, carried a significant downside that was either not understood or sometimes deliberately ignored: debilitating and often lethal medical conditions were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.
Amosite was almost always the type of asbestos utilized in such facilities. Amosite is one of the amphibole varieties of the asbestos family of minerals and is generally considered more prone to result in disease than the serpentine form. Used for many years in the form of asbestos transite in chemical plants, labs and oil refineries across the United States, amosite was finally outlawed in building materials in the 1970s.
As with cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes, molded into working surfaces and laminated. As long as it was solid, this form of asbestos posed no immediate hazard. As transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) gets older and become prone to crumbling, however, lethal, tiny particles are able to float into the atmosphere. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, a term that is used to describe material that is easily crushed. Laboratory and chemical plant ovens also almost always were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
The Dangers of Friable Asbestos
Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this condition the fibers can be easily dispersed into the atmosphere. When someone breathes these fibers, they can damage the lungs, causing cancer. Pleural mesothelioma, an unusual and all too often fatal cancer affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity), is strongly linked with exposure to asbestos. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, as can occur when those microscopic particles are released into the air and land on food or in beverages, can result in pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mounting pressure from researchers, the press and concerned citizens forced the creation of laws regulating how to use asbestos. When facilities such as Philips Petroleum Fertilizer Plant were constructed, however, the use of asbestos was much more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from the past can cause danger when it is disturbed during remodeling and demolition jobs.
The Hidden Danger of Asbestos
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the associated diseases may take many, many years to manifest - frequently decades after the worker has left the employer. It can also be challenging to identify asbestos-related diseases because their symptoms resemble those of other disorders. So, it is very important for folks who were employed by or resided around places like Philips Petroleum Fertilizer Plant to ask their health care professionals for a mesothelioma treatment guide. In addition, all those who shared homes with these people are also at risk, since unless strict decontamination protocols, like the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were in place, it was common for people to bring particles of asbestos on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothes. This information is crucial as early diagnosis is necessary since there is no mesothelioma cure.Sources
Beatrice Daily Sun - Beatrice Fertilizer Plant Part of Deal
EPA - Sites Reporting to EPA near Beatrice, NE
Koch Nitrogen Company, LLC - Safety, Environment and Community
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal