The Shell Chemical Plant in Saraland, Alabama is owned and operated Royal Dutch Shell, the trans-national parent of the U.S. Shell Oil Company. The oil refining operation has a capacity of 80,000 barrels per day. Since 2008, the plant has been receiving hydrogen from a new facility for the purposes of hydrotreatment of motor fuel. In addition, the Saraland facility produces diesel and jet aircraft fuel.
In addition to other toxic byproducts of petroleum, Shell Chemical also produces an abundance of benzene, a potent carcinogen implicated in the development of leukemia.
Benzene is not the only carcinogen present at Shell Chemical, however.
Asbestos in Shell Chemical Plant in Saraland
If fire or heat was a concern, asbestos was the insulating material preferred by builders for most of the 20th century. Materials made with asbestos, accordingly, were commonly used in the building of oil refineries such as Shell Chemical Plant in Saraland. Resistance to reactive chemicals is one of the other properties of various forms of amphibole asbestos. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, bench tops, even protective garments, therefore, often were made with the fibrous mineral. There is no doubt that asbestos was extremely effective at protecting against combustion and extreme heat. This strength, however, came with a significant cost in terms of human health.
Amosite was often one of the varieties of asbestos utilized in these facilities. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of asbestos and is considered more likely to lead to health problems than the serpentine form. Although it was disallowed as a construction material in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was utilized for decades in labs, chemical plants and refineries across the US.
Asbestos transite could be laminated, molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes just like cement could. As a rule, new items built with transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos fibers were trapped in the transite. Tiny fibers of asbestos are released into the atmosphere, however, as transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) grows older and becomes prone to becoming powdery. Asbestos when it is in this condition is considered friable, a term that is used for material that is easily pulverized. In addition, laboratory and chemical plant ovens often contained friable asbestos in insulation linings.
The Dangers of Friable Asbestos
When they are friable, asbestos fibers are readily released into the environment. If someone inhales these fibers, they can damage the lungs, causing cancer. Pleural mesothelioma, an unusual but frequently deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity), is strongly linked with exposure to asbestos. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are linked to the ingestion of asbestos fibers, which can occur when the microscopic particles are released into the air and settle on food or in beverages.
During the past few decades medical researchers have uncovered much information about the risks associated with being exposed to asbestos, and as a result there are stringent laws regulating its use. However, when Shell Chemical Plant in Saraland began operation, the use of asbestos was much more prevalent. And in way too many cases people worked with asbestos-containing materials without the protection of respirators or other protective gear.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the resulting diseases may take many, many years to develop - often long after the worker leaves the employer. With such a long time between exposure and the manifestation of symptoms, a worker may not even connect the current condition with work he or she did decades earlier. It is extremely important, therefore, that all who worked in or lived around oil refineries such as Shell Chemical Plant in Saraland inform their doctors about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Experimental therapies for pleural mesothelioma are being developed, and early detection gives the patient and his or her doctor the highest chance of overcoming the previously always-fatal disease. Those who believe they have been exposed negligently should seek legal counsel with a mesothelioma attorney.Sources
Business Wire - Linde to Hold Grand Opening for Saraland, Alabama, Hydrogen Plant (Business Wire, 30 April 2008)
Cortera - Shell Chemical LP
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal