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Union Oil Refinery - El Segundo

In 1890, the Union Oil Company of California was founded by Wallace Hardiman, Thomas Bard and Lyman Stewart. Union Oil Company of California was a major petroleum exporter and marketer for more than 100 years. The company was originally headquartered in Santa Paula, California, but in 1901, the company moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, and its original building became a California Historical Landmark. The company operated under the name Unocal and was the original owner and operator of the Union 76 gas station chain.

Union Oil Company still operates as Union Oil Company of California, a Chevron company, but it is no longer an independent company. The defunct Union Oil Company of California became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chevron Corporation after it was acquired in August 2005.

Chevron Corp.

A group of merchants and explorers founded the Pacific Coast Oil Co. in San Francisco, California on September 10, 1879. During its more than 130-year history, several mergers and acquisitions took place to form the modern-day Chevron Corporation, which employs an estimated 67,000 people in more than 20 different countries around the world. Chevron took its current name in 2005, after the acquisition of the Union Oil Company of California. Today, Chevron Corporation is headquartered in San Ramon, California, and is the second largest integrated energy company in the United States.

El Segundo Refinery

Union Oil Company of California was headquartered in El Segundo until it was acquired by Chevron in 2005. El Segundo was selected as California's second site for an oil refinery in 1911. Today, the refinery has three types of cracking units it uses in the oil refining process.

Asbestos and Oil Refineries

In cases where flame or heat was a concern, the mineral called asbestos was the insulation preferred by builders during much of the 1900s. Materials made with asbestos, accordingly, were commonly utilized when constructing plants such as Union Oil El Segundo Refinery. In addition to being temperature-resistant as well as non-flammable, various kinds of amphibole asbestos are also particularly impervious to reactive chemicals. In light of the nature of the work that occurs at oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in factory buildings, but also in bench tops, protective clothes and coating materials. Asbestos, however, came with a major downside that was either not understood or sometimes deliberately ignored: serious and often lethal diseases were found to be the result of exposure to asbestos.

In general, amosite was the type of asbestos used. The brown pigment of amosite is a result of iron in its chemical composition; this also causes amosite to be resistant to corrosive substances like those used in oil refineries. Although it was prohibited from use for construction purposes in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, appeared for decades in refineries and laboratories across the United States.

Asbestos transite had properties like cement; it could be laminated, molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. For the most part, new items made with transite were safe because the asbestos fibers were encapsulated in the transite. With age, however, this transite grows prone to crumbling, allowing microscopic fibers to float into the atmosphere. That is, such asbestos is friable, a term that is used to describe material that is easily crushed. The insulation lining of industrial kilns also frequently contained friable asbestos.

Why Friable Asbestos Is Bad

When they are friable, asbestos particles are readily dispersed into the air. If a person breathes these fibers, they can harm the lungs, resulting in asbestosis. Another rare, and generally deadly, disease linked to asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of the illness, one which affects the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most common. If the airborne particles settle on food or drinks and are then ingested, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma may result, though they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.

Increased pressure from the press, concerned citizens and the medical community led to laws regulating how to use asbestos. When Union Oil El Segundo Refinery was built, however, asbestos was more prevalent. And in way too many instances people worked with materials containing asbestos without the benefit of respirators or other safety gear.

The Hidden Hazard of Asbestos

Asbestos-related diseases, in contrast to most work-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, can take many, many years to manifest. The symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestosis - shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea), pain in the chest or abdomen and a chronic cough - can often be confused with the symptoms of other, less serious disorders. It is extremely important, therefore, that folks that worked in or lived near sites such as the Union Oil El Segundo Refinery ask their doctors for mesothelioma information. Such information can assist physicians to make accurate diagnoses; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner it is diagnosed, the better the odds of surviving or at least of improved quality of life using treatments such as mesothelioma surgery when applicable.



Chevron Corporation - Corporate Fact Sheet

Chevron Corporation - El Segundo Refinery (

Chevron Corporation - History

ConocoPhillips - Drive Savvy

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

Unocal - Unocal at a Glance

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