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Union Oil Refinery - San Pedro

The Union Oil Company of California was founded by Wallace Hardiman, Lyman Stewart and Thomas Bard in 1890 in Santa Paula, California 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. The company operated under the name Unocal.

In August 2005, the defunct Union Oil Company of California was acquired by Chevron Corporation to become a wholly owned subsidiary. The company operates as Union Oil Company of California, a Chevron company, but it is no longer an independent company.

Union 76

Union 76 is a gas station chain that was originally owned and operated by the Union Oil Company of California. The chain is now known as simply "76" and is owned and operated by ConocoPhillips.

Chevron Corporation

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 Corporation changed it its current name in 2005, after the acquisition of the Union Oil Company of California. Today, Chevron is headquartered in San Ramon, California, and is the second largest integrated energy company in the United States.

San Pedro Refinery

In 1909, the Union Oil Company helped fund projects in order to create a terminal at San Pedro Harbor that would help the shipping of crude oil. During an earthquake in 1933, two tanks at the San Pedro refinery caught fire and caused severe damage. In 1976, an oil tanker exploded, and the tank farm was ordered to be dismantled by July 1993.

Union Oil Refinery at San Pedro and Asbestos

In much of the 1900s, in cases where heat or flame was a danger, asbestos was used as a building material. Therefore, it was usual for facilities like the Union Oil Refinery at San Pedro to be built with materials that contained asbestos. Resistance to chemical reactions is perhaps a less well-known property of certain forms of amphibole asbestos. Given the nature of the work that goes on in oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in factory buildings, but also in bench and counter tops, lab equipment and protective garments. And though the asbestos worked well in preventing fire damage and in protecting lives from high heat, it also exposed those same people to serious health risks.

Amosite was often the type of asbestos utilized in these locations. When it is mixed with chrysotile, which is resistant to heat and bases but not as resistant to acidic compounds, amosite creates products that are particularly effective at protecting against corrosive chemicals. Used for many years in the form of asbestos-containing transite in chemical plants and laboratories across the country, amosite was eventually outlawed as a construction material in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces just as cement could. This form of asbestos did not pose a health risk while it remained solid. However, when asbestos-containing transite got older, it was prone to crumbling, which caused the lethal, tiny fibers to float into the air. In other words, such asbestos is friable, or able to be pulverized by hand pressure alone. The insulation lining of laboratory ovens also almost always were constructed with friable asbestos.

The Dangers of Friable Asbestos

When friable, asbestos fibers are easily dispersed into the environment. Inhaling asbestos particles can lead to conditions like asbestosis or cancer. Another unusual, and generally lethal, asbestos-related disease is mesothelioma. The pleural variety of the disease, one which affects the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most common. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, which can occur if those tiny fibers float in the air and fall on food or in beverages, may be the cause of pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mounting pressure from medical researchers, concerned citizens and the press led to rules controlling how to use asbestos. When facilities such as the Union Oil Refinery at San Pedro were constructed, however, asbestos was more common. And even now, asbestos from long ago may be the source of problems if it is not disposed of properly during remodeling and demolition jobs.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

In contrast to typical workplace injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, asbestos-related illnesses may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop. Given such a lag between asbestos exposure and the onset of symptoms, a worker may not connect his or her current health problem with work he or she did 10 or more years ago. Men and women that were employed by or lived around oil refineries like the Union Oil Refinery at San Pedro therefore should ask their physicians for mesothelioma information. New methods for treating mesothelioma are being developed, such as mesothelioma surgery, and early detection gives the patient and his or her doctor the best chance of beating the once deathly form of cancer.

Sources

Sources

Chevron Corporation - Corporate Fact Sheet
http://www.chevron.com/documents/pdf/corporatefactsheet.pdf

Chevron Corporation - History
http://www.chevron.com/about/leadership/history/2002/

ConocoPhillips - Drive Savvy
http://www.drivesavvy.com/

L.A. Times - Union Oil Agrees to Shut Tank Farm
http://articles.latimes.com/1989-02-23/local/me-257_1_tank-farm

Port of Los Angeles - Virtual History Tour
http://www.laporthistory.org/level4/Berth150/berth150_trend.html

Time Magazine - Catastrophe: A Bad One
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,745349-1,00.html

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

Unocal - Unocal at a Glance
http://web.archive.org/web/19970410085648/www.unocal.com/glance.htm

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