An acquisition that was gained with the purchase of Orion Oil and Gas Consulting Corp. in 2003, Valero Energy Corporation’s St. Charles Refinery has a total throughput capacity of 250,000 barrels per day. It is one of the newest refineries in the United States, built in the early 1980s. A fluid catalytic cracking unit, alkylation unit and continuous catalytic reformer unit were built between 2000 and 2002, but Valero has spent at least $1 billion in upgrading the plant since then.
The St. Charles Refinery in Norco, Louisiana, provides intermediate feedstocks to Valero’s other refineries in the Gulf Coast region. The company also has access to numerous markets in the southern and eastern United States because the refinery is linked to two major pipelines to distribute refined products.
The refinery is situated on 1,000 acres along the Mississippi River, 15 miles upstream from New Orleans. Therefore, it has access to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, and can receive its crude oil from pipelines or via five marine docks. With 530 employees, the plant’s product output is represented by 80 percent gasoline, but it also produces distillates and a range of petroleum products, such as diesel fuel and heating oil.
Environmental and Safety Recognition
The St. Charles Refinery is now recognized by OSHA as one of the safest refineries in the United States, having been accepted into the organization’s Voluntary Protection Program as a Star Site. Its safety commitment was also recognized by the Chairman’s Safety Award in 2005 and 2007. This award in an internal award that considers the overall safety record, employee and contractor injury rates, and injury reductions over a three-year period on the site.
The facility also received recognition for the 2006 Pollution Prevention Project, 2007 Pollution Prevention Program, and the 2007 Community Environmental Outreach by the Environmental Leadership Program Governor’s Awards.
Valero Energy Corporation’s St. Charles Refinery and Asbestos
In situations where fire or extreme heat was a risk, the mineral called asbestos was the insulating material of choice in most of the 1900s. Oil refineries like Valero Energy Corporation’s St. Charles Refinery, therefore, were often constructed using materials that contained asbestos. Resistance to chemical reactions is perhaps a less well-known property of certain kinds of the fibrous mineral. Floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, work surfaces, even protective garments, therefore, frequently were made with the fibrous mineral. One of the ironic things about asbestos is that while it does a great job of guarding against the harm done by high heat or combustion - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for this purpose since ancient times - at the same time it poses significant risks to human well being.
Amosite was often the type of asbestos used in such facilities. The brown tint of amosite is a result of iron in its chemical makeup; this also causes amosite to be resistant to corrosive substances, such as those used in oil refineries. Used for many years in the form of asbestos transite in laboratories and oil refineries throughout the country, amosite was eventually banned in building materials in the 1970s.
Similar to cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto pipes and ductwork and laminated. This form of asbestos did not present a health hazard while it was solid. However, as transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) aged, it became prone to crumbling, which enabled the deadly, microscopic particles to flake off into the air. Asbestos in this state is considered friable, which is defined as easy to pulverize. The insulation lining of laboratory kilns also frequently were constructed with friable asbestos.
Why Is Friable Asbestos Dangerous?
When friable, asbestos fibers are readily dispersed into the air. If a person inhales these particles, they can harm the lungs, resulting in cancer or asbestosis. Another uncommon, but often lethal, asbestos-related disease is mesothelioma. The pleural variety of the disease, one which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. When the particles of asbestos in the air settle on food or in drinks and are then swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can occur, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.
Increased pressure from researchers, news media and citizen groups forced the creation of regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When many old refineries were constructed, however, asbestos was more prevalent. And even now, asbestos from long ago can cause problems if it is disturbed during remodeling and demolition jobs.
The Ticking Bomb
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the resulting diseases can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop - often decades after a worker leaves the employer. It can also be hard to identify asbestos-related diseases since the symptoms can be mistaken for those of other conditions. Accordingly, it is vital for all that were employed by or spent much time near refineries such as Valero Energy Corporation’s St. Charles Refinery to ask their for mesothelioma information. Furthermore, even people who commuted in the same cars with these people are also in danger, as unless effective safety measures, like using workplace-only clothing and on-site showers, were in place, it was common for employees to bring home asbestos dust on themselves or their clothes. In some cases mesothelioma surgery is available to treat the disease.Sources
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
Valero Energy Corporation - St. Charles