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Union Oil Cracking Plant

The Union Oil Company of California was founded by Lyman Stewart, Thomas Bard and Wallace Hardiman in 1890 in Santa Paula, California. The company operates under the name Unocal and was a major petroleum exporter and marketer for more than 100 years. In 1901, the company moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, California, and its original building became a California Historical Landmark.

In August 2005, the defunct Union Oil Company of California merged with Chevron Corporation to become a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron. Though Unocal is no longer an independent company, it still operates as Union Oil Company of California, a Chevron company.

Union 76

Union 76, now known as simply "76", was a gas station chain that was originally owned and operated by the Union Oil Company of California. The gas station chain first opened for business in 1932 and was named for the "Spirit of '76" and also for the octane rating of gasoline in 1932. The brand is easily recognized by its bright orange ball with blue writing of the number "76". ConocoPhillips now owns and operates the 76 brand of gas stations.

Cracking Plant

The Union Oil Company of California's cracking plant is located in Wilmington, California, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Cracking is the process in which large hydrocarbons are broken down into smaller molecules. Unocal uses the process of cracking in its oil refining. Unocal uses the cracking plant in Wilmington to produce gasoline from heavier crude oils such as gas oils.

On August 8, 1991, the Wilmington cracking plant suffered a crude oil spill.

Union Oil Company of California's Cracking Plant and Asbestos

For the greater part of the last century, whenever flame or extreme heat was a danger, asbestos was used as an insulator. Materials that contained asbestos, accordingly, were frequently used when constructing refineries like Union Oil Company of California's cracking plant. In addition to being heat-proof as well as fireproof, certain types of amphibole asbestos are also particularly resistant to reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was used in protective clothes and bench tops. Asbestos, however, had a significant downside that was not known or at times deliberately ignored: serious and often fatal diseases were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.

Generally, amosite was the kind of asbestos used. When mixed with chrysotile, which is resistant to heat and bases but not as resistant to acidic compounds, the amphibole amosite creates products that are especially good at protecting against corrosive chemicals. This amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was used in laboratories and chemical plants across the country for many years before it was outlawed in building materials in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes, laminated and molded into working surfaces just as cement could. Generally, new items made with transite were innocuous since the asbestos fibers were encapsulated in the transite. However, as asbestos-containing transite aged, it was prone to becoming powdery, which enabled the lethal, tiny fibers to float into the atmosphere. Asbestos in this condition is called friable, which is defined as easily pulverized. In addition, industrial kilns often were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

Asbestos fibers, when they are friable, can be easily released into the atmosphere. Breathing asbestos particles can result in diseases like asbestosis or cancer. Mesothelioma, an unusual and frequently lethal disease of the mesothelium (the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity), has been shown to be linked with inhaling asbestos. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are caused by ingesting asbestos fibers, which can occur when microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or in beverages.

In the last few decades medical researchers have learned a lot concerning the risks associated with being exposed to asbestos; therefore there are strict regulations controlling its use. However, when places like Union Oil Company of California's cracking plant were built, asbestos was much more prevalent. Any asbestos that remains from that time can still pose danger if special care is not taken during demolition and remodeling projects.

The Hidden Danger of Asbestos

Asbestos-related diseases, as opposed to most work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, may take many, many years to develop. When a worker begins developing signs such as difficulty breathing, chest pain and chronic coughing, his or her doctor may not at first recognize asbestos as a factor, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. People who worked at or lived near oil refineries such as Union Oil Company of California's cracking plant therefore should ask their health care professionals for mesothelioma information. Such information can help doctors make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma, the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the chances of surviving or at least of improved quality of life. Occasionally treatments like mesothelioma surgery can be used to treat the disease.



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