In 1988, the Sunoco Company acquired a South Philadelphia refinery when it purchased the Atlantic Refining and Marketing Company. In 1994, Sunoco purchased an adjoining factory from Chevron and integrated the two refineries into a single facility with roots extending back into the 1860s and the very beginnings of the petroleum industry in the United States.
The Philadelphia Refinery processes over 330,000 barrels per day of crude oil, creating a variety of fuels. The 900 people employed at this Pennsylvania refinery produce gasoline, aviation fuel, kerosene, heating oil, propane, butane and residual fuel. These products are sold to retail, wholesale and commercial customers in the Northeast region of the United States. Additionally, petrochemical feedstocks are produced at the plant; these are used in the manufacture of plastics and synthetics.
Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery Clean Air Act Violations
In April of 2005, residents of Southwest Philadelphia filed a complaint against the Sunoco Refinery, alleging that Sunoco had committed a series of repeated violations of Title V of the Clean Air Act permit issued to the facility. Sunoco settled with the group - the Community Labor Refinery Tracking Committee - providing for operational improvements, specifically to the amine system for the refinery's sulfur recovery plant. This is in an effort to reduce emissions. Sunoco also agreed to fund the committee's purchase of community air monitoring equipment, and changes were made to reduce pollution of the air around the plant.
Asbestos and Oil Refineries
In much of the last century, various forms of asbestos were chosen as a building material whenever fire or extreme heat was a risk. Materials that contained asbestos, accordingly, were frequently utilized when building oil refineries such as the Sunoco Company's Philadelphia refinery. Another property of certain types of asbestos is that they are unaffected by chemicals. Because of the nature of the work that occurs in oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in plant structures, but also in lab equipment and protective clothing. One of the ironic things about asbestos is that although it does a fine job of protecting lives and property from the damage done by high temperatures or fire - it is one of the best insulators known and has been used for the purpose since ancient times - it also poses significant risks to people's health.
For the most part, amosite was the type of asbestos used. The brown pigment of amosite comes from iron in its chemical composition; this also causes amosite to be resistant to corrosive chemicals like those manufactured in oil refineries. Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in chemical plants, labs and refineries across the US, amosite was finally outlawed as a construction material in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite had properties like cement; it could be laminated and molded into working surfaces. Generally, new items made with transite were safe because the asbestos particles were encapsulated in the transite. With age, however, this transite becomes prone to becoming powdery, allowing microscopic fibers to float into the atmosphere. In other words, such asbestos is friable, which translates to easily crushed. Also, laboratory and chemical plant kilns frequently were constructed with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Friable asbestos is hazardous because in this condition the particles can be easily dispersed into the atmosphere. Breathing asbestos fibers can lead to conditions like cancer. In addition, asbestos exposure is known to be the primary cause of pleural mesothelioma, an unusual and often lethal disease of the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma result from ingesting asbestos fibers, which is likely if microscopic particles are released into the air and land on food or in beverages.
Increased pressure from the medical community, the press and concerned citizens led to laws regulating the use of asbestos. Asbestos use was more common, however, when places like the Sunoco Company's Philadelphia refinery were first operating. And even now, asbestos from long ago may be the source of problems when it is released during remodeling and demolition jobs.
The Ticking Bomb
Asbestos-related diseases, as opposed to most on-the-job injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear. When a former employee begins developing signs such as chest pain, dyspnea and chronic coughing, his or her physician may not at first recognize asbestos as the culprit, leading to delays in diagnosis. Men and women who worked in or spent much time near sites like the Sunoco Company's Philadelphia refinery should therefore ask their doctors for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Such information can assist physicians to make accurate diagnoses; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner the diagnosis, the higher the chances of surviving or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Early diagnosis is crucial as there is no mesothelioma cure; yet treatments are available when the disease is caught early.Sources
Mid-Atlantic Environmental Law Center - Monitoring Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery
Sunoco Chemicals - Philadelphia Refinery
Sunoco - About Sunoco
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal