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Shell Oil Refinery - Anacortes

Shell Oil's Puget Sound Refinery is located in Anacortes, approximately 50 miles north of Seattle. Originally owned and operated by Texaco, it is currently under its third corporate owner, Shell Oil Products Group U.S., a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.

About the Refinery

Texaco constructed the original refinery in 1958, choosing a site on March Point next to Fidalgo Bay, giving oil tankers ready anchorage and facilitating the transfer of crude oil shipments from Alaska. In 1998, Shell Oil acquired Texaco but had to divest itself of the refinery under the terms of the takeover. For a brief time, it was operated by a small domestic oil company known as Equilon; the refinery was returned to Royal Dutch Shell's U.S. subsidiary in 2003.

Safety Violations and Tragedy

While the company was under ownership of Equilon in 1998, tragedy occurred. Following a power outage in November 1998, six refinery workers received orders from management to restart a coking unit. As a result of this premature action, the unit exploded, killing all six men. Six months later, Equilon paid out-of-court settlements to the families and community as well as fines to the State of Washington.

Ten years later, an inspection by officials from the state Department of Labor and Industry revealed more than 20 safety violations.

Asbestos and Shell Oil Refinery in Anacortes

For much of the 1900s, the mineral called asbestos was used as an insulator when flames or extreme heat was a risk. Therefore, it was quite common for petroleum processing plants such as Shell Oil Refinery in Anacortes to be made with asbestos-containing materials. Another property of some kinds of asbestos is that they are resistant to chemical reactions. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in coating materials, bench tops and protective garments. Asbestos, however, had a significant downside that was not known or sometimes deliberately ignored: grave and sometimes fatal medical conditions were found to be the result of exposure to asbestos.

Most of this asbestos was the form called amosite. Amosite is one of the amphibole varieties of the asbestos family of minerals and is commonly thought to be more prone to cause disease than serpentine asbestos. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in chemical plants, laboratories and refineries across the United States, amosite was eventually prohibited from use for construction purposes in the 1970s.

As with cement, asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces, sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and laminated. For the most part, new items formed from transite were considered safe since the asbestos particles were trapped in the transite. As this transite grows older and become prone to becoming powdery, however, deadly, microscopic particles can flake off into the air. In this state, it is considered friable, which means easily pulverized. Laboratory and chemical plant kilns also often were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.

Why Is Friable Asbestos Bad?

Friable asbestos is dangerous because in this state the fibers can be easily dispersed in the air. If a person breathes these particles, they can damage the lungs, causing asbestosis. In addition, inhaling asbestos is the primary causal factor of pleural mesothelioma, an unusual but often deadly cancer affecting the mesothelium, the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. Swallowing asbestos fibers, as may occur if the tiny fibers float in the air and fall on food or in drinks, can lead to pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.

In the last few decades scientists and researchers have discovered much information about the risks associated with being exposed to asbestos, and therefore there are strict regulations controlling its use. When Shell Oil Refinery in Anacortes was built, however, asbestos was much more common. Any asbestos that remains from that period can still pose a health hazard if people are not careful during demolition projects.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

As opposed to typical workplace injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the incident, asbestos-related diseases may take many, many years to manifest. When a former worker begins developing symptoms such as pain in the chest and dyspnea (i.e., shortness of breath), his or her doctor might not immediately identify asbestos exposure as a factor, leading to delays in diagnosis. So, it is extremely important for folks who worked at or resided around plants such as Shell Oil Refinery in Anacortes to ask their doctors for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Such information can enable doctors to make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the earlier it is caught, the better the odds of surviving or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Although there is no mesothelioma cure, the disease sometimes can be treated with certain therapies.

Sources

Sources

HistoryLink - Explosion and fire at the Equilon Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes Kill Six Refinery Workers on November 25, 1998
http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?displaypage=output.cfm&file_id=5618

Manta - Shell Puget Sound Refinery
http://www.manta.com/c/mmcnjq0/shell-puget-sound-refinery

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/EHSRM/ASB/acmimages3.html

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/EHSRM/HAZEXCEPTIONS/a.html

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries - L&I Focus on Petroleum Refinery Safety Finds Multiple Violations at Equilon (L&I News, 25 June 2008)

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