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United Refining

United Refining Company of Warren, Pennsylvania, boasts "Heritage, Longevity, and Vision" as their motto. Founded in 1902 and still going strong today, they remain an independent refiner of motor gasoline, distillate fuels and a complete line of petroleum products. In addition to the refinery, they own a chain of more than 375 gas stops and convenience stores. Located throughout New York and Ohio as well as Pennsylvania, some service stations include restaurants, truck stops and even garages.

Double Dipping

United Refining does not just manufacture motor gasoline; they sell it. Three different chains can be found in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and western New York that are owned by United Refining Company. The company sells over 400 million gallons of gasoline per year through their Country Fair, Kwik Fill and Red Apple station.

In September of 2009, United Refining Company was in the process of taking over a near-bankrupt Oklahoma oil and gas company named SemGroup. United Refining Company's owner, John Catsimatidis, was hopeful that he could help the collapsed company to recover while keeping their workers employed. For various reasons, Catsimatidis dropped the bid in October of 2009. Instead, Catsimatidis plans a merger in 2010 between United Refining Energy Corp. and Chaparral Energy Inc., a private energy producer in Oklahoma.

From Bankruptcy to Refinery

John Catsimatidis is not a stranger to bankruptcy. When United Refining went into bankruptcy, it was Catsimatidis who reorganized the company in 1987. A few years prior to that he went through bankruptcy with an airline he owned. It was at that time that he found the refinery. He paid over seven million dollars for the Warren refinery, and today they operate 24/7, manufacturing about 70,000 barrels of oil per day.

United Refining Company plans a production of 7.6 million barrels of oil for 2010. Their fourth fiscal quarter for 2009 ended with $620.9 million dollars, nearly a 20 percent decrease from the previous year. Decreases in petroleum product selling prices were given as the reason for the loss, but they remain strong with over $200 million dollars in working capital.

United Refining Company and Asbestos

For much of the 20th century, various forms of asbestos were chosen as an insulator whenever fire or extreme heat was a concern. Oil refineries such as United Refining Company, therefore, were often constructed using materials containing asbestos. Along with being non-flammable and heat-proof, various forms of amphibole asbestos are also especially impervious to chemical reactions. Ceiling tiles, insulation, benches, even protective uniforms, therefore, commonly contained the fibrous mineral. One of the ironic things with asbestos is that while it does a great job of guarding against the harm associated with fire or high temperatures - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for this purpose throughout history - at the same time it poses significant risks to human well being.

For the most part, amosite was the type of asbestos used. The brownish pigment of amosite is a result of iron molecules in its chemical makeup; this also causes amosite to be resistant to acidic chemicals like those produced in plants like United Refining Company. Used for decades in the form of asbestos transite in labs, chemical plants and oil refineries throughout the United States, amosite was finally prohibited from use in building materials in the 1970s.

Similar to cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and molded into working surfaces. This form of asbestos did not offer a health hazard so long as it stayed solid. Microscopic fibers of asbestos enter into the air, however, as this transite grows older and becomes prone to becoming powdery. Asbestos when it is in this condition is considered friable, which is defined as easily crushed. Also, laboratory ovens often were fabricated with friable asbestos in insulation linings.

Why Is Friable Asbestos Bad?

Friable asbestos is dangerous since in this form the fibers are readily released into the atmosphere. Diseases like asbestosis can result from the inhalation of asbestos. Pleural mesothelioma, a rare and frequently deadly disease affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity), is strongly linked with asbestos exposure. Ingestion of asbestos fibers, which can occur if the tiny particles are released into the air and settle on food or drinks, can lead to pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mounting pressure from citizen groups, the press and the medical community resulted in laws regulating how to use asbestos. The use of asbestos was much more prevalent, however, when places like United Refining Company were built. Before modern safety regulations were put into place, workers often labored without protective equipment in spaces where asbestos dust filled the air.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is that resulting diseases may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop - often long after a worker has retired from the employer. The symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma - pain in the chest or abdomen, a chronic cough and shortness of breath - can easily be confused with those of other, less serious disorders. Therefore, it is very important for those that worked in or resided around plants like United Refining Company to ask their physicians for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Moreover, family members and others who shared homes with these people are also at risk, as unless strict safety measures, such as using workplace-only clothing and on-site showers, were in place, it was easy for personnel to bring home asbestos dust on themselves or their clothing. Because there is no mesothelioma cure, early diagnosis is crucial.



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