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Tosco Refining

Tosco Corporation, headquartered in California and Connecticut, is a large, nationwide petroleum refiner. The company was once a key player in the bid to create alternative, non-petroleum-based forms of energy, but it abandoned those efforts in the 1980s. Today, Tosco maintains a tight, traditional focus on petroleum-based fuels and fertilizers.

Tosco operates the Ferndale Refinery near Bellingham, Washington.

Company History

Tosco Corporation was founded in 1955. Its original name (at founding) was the Oil Shale Corporation, and the fledgling company set up its new headquarters in Los Angeles, California. In 1965, Tosco joined with Atlantic Richfield. Then, in 1970, Tosco acquired the Signal Oil and Gas refinery in Bakersfield, California. These moves helped position Tosco as one of the largest refiners of crude oil in the U.S.

The company adopted the name Tosco in 1976. Today, the company has a refining capacity of close to 1 million barrels of crude oil per day.

In the News

In 1997, Tosco's Washington refinery was held responsible for an oil spill into the Strait of Georgia. Tosco was fined $20,000 after a valve on a sump catch basin was left partially open, leading to the release of marine and jet fuels into the strait. The refinery was also required to redesign procedures at the plant.

Asbestos in Oil Refineries

If excessive heat or combustion was a danger, various forms of asbestos were the insulator of choice for much of the 20th century. As a result, it was quite common for plants like Tosco's Ferndale Refinery to be constructed with materials that contained asbestos. In addition to being heat-proof as well as non-flammable, certain kinds of asbestos are also particularly resistant to chemical reactions. Because of this, asbestos was utilized in protective garments and counter tops. And though the asbestos did well in safeguarding against fire damage and in protecting lives from high heat, the mineral also exposed those same people to significant health risks.

For the most part, amosite was the kind of asbestos used. When it is mixed with chrysotile, which is impervious to heat and bases but not as impervious to acidic compounds, amosite creates products that are particularly good at protecting against corrosive chemicals. This amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was utilized in chemical plants, labs and refineries throughout the country for decades before it was outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s.

Similar to cement, asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces. For the most part, new items made with transite were safe since the asbestos fibers were encapsulated in the transite. With age, however, transite with asbestos-containing material (ACM) becomes prone to crumbling, allowing microscopic particles to float into the air. When it is in this state, it is considered friable, a term used to describe material that is easy to pulverize. In addition, laboratory and chemical plant kilns frequently were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

When they are friable, asbestos particles are readily released in the air. When someone breathes these fibers, they can damage the lungs, resulting in cancer. In addition, exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare and all too often lethal disease of the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are caused by the ingestion of asbestos fibers, which is likely when the microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or drinks.

Since medical research led to increased knowledge of the risks of asbestos exposure, workers today are protected by strict regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When Oil Refineries were first operating, however, the use of asbestos was more commonplace. And even now, asbestos from long ago can cause problems when it is mishandled during demolition projects.

A Ticking Bomb

One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is that resulting illnesses can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear - often long after a worker has retired from the employer. It can also be challenging to diagnose asbestos-related ailments because their symptoms resemble the symptoms of other conditions. It is extremely important, therefore, that those who worked in or spent much time around sites like Tosco's Ferndale Refinery inform their health care professionals about the possibility of asbestos exposure. Furthermore, even people who commuted in the same cars with these people are also in danger, since unless strict safety measures, such as the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were in place, it was easy for employees to bring asbestos on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothing. The mesothelioma survival rate traditionally has been grim, yet early diagnosis and consistent treatments like mesothelioma radiation can improve the prognosis for this disease.

Sources

Sources

Department of Ecology, State of Washington - Tosco Issued Fine, Damage Assessment for 1997 Oil Spill
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/news/1998news/98-026.html

Funding Universe - Tosco Corporation
http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Tosco-Corporation-Company-History.html

Grist - Oil Refineries are full of asbestos, not just carbon
http://www.grist.org/article/it-was-asbestos-times-it-was-the-worst-of-times

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

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