Virginia's only oil refinery is located along the York River in Yorktown, providing ready access to the Chesapeake Bay. Originally built in 1956 by Amoco - and therefore still referred to as the Amoco Refinery by the locals - the Yorktown Refinery is currently owned by Texas-based Western Refining after their deal to take over Giant Industries in 2006. The Yorktown Refinery has a throughput capacity of approximately 70,000 barrels of crude oil per calendar day.
Crude refined at the facility comes from a variety of areas including Canada, countries in South America, wells in the North Sea and from areas of the Far East. Additionally, the Yorktown Refinery supplements the process with feedstocks and blendstocks to ensure optimized blending operations. All of the crude processed at the refinery arrives at Yorktown via delivery by barge directly to the plant's dock.
Products of the Yorktown Refinery include gasoline, diesel fuels, propane, butane, petroleum coke and heavy fuel oils. These are produced in a variety of ways. The Yorktown Refinery processes crude using distillation techniques including vacuum distillation and a coker, using hydrotreating (for naptha and distillate), reforming methods for the production of high-octane gasoline and with the use of fluid catalytic cracking units. Once complete, products from the Yorktown Refinery are delivered to regional markets including the Yorktown area and Baltimore, Maryland, as well as to the New York Harbor area and to North and South Carolina,
The Yorktown Refinery and Asbestos
In situations where extreme temperature or flame was a concern, the mineral called asbestos was the insulator preferred by builders during most of the last century. Oil refineries like the Yorktown Refinery, therefore, were usually constructed using materials containing asbestos. In addition to being temperature-resistant and a fire retardant, some forms of asbestos are also especially resistant to reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was used in lab equipment, protective clothing and benches. Asbestos, however, came with a notable downside that was not understood or at times deliberately ignored: grave and sometimes lethal diseases were caused by exposure to asbestos.
Much of the asbestos was of the amosite variety. Frequently called "brown asbestos", the amphibole form of asbestos known as amosite is especially resistant to corrosive substances like those produced in facilities like the Yorktown Refinery because of the iron in its chemical makeup. Although it was outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was used for decades in laboratories and oil refineries throughout the United States.
Asbestos transite had qualities like cement; it could be molded into working surfaces, laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. Generally, new items formed from transite were considered innocuous because the asbestos particles were encapsulated in the transite. As asbestos-containing transite ages and become prone to crumbling, however, lethal, microscopic fibers are able to flake off into the atmosphere. Asbestos in this condition is considered friable, which is defined as easy to pulverize. In addition, industrial ovens almost always contained friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Friable asbestos is hazardous because in this form the fibers can be readily dispersed into the air. Inhaling asbestos particles can cause diseases like asbestosis. In addition, asbestos exposure has been shown to be the primary causal factor of mesothelioma, a rare but frequently deadly disease of the mesothelium, which is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. If those airborne particles land on food or drinks and are subsequently ingested, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma may occur, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.
Increased pressure from activist groups, the press and the medical community forced the creation of rules controlling how to use asbestos. However, when most oil refineries were built, asbestos was more prevalent. Before present-day regulations were put into place, workers often labored without respirators or other safety gear in environments where asbestos particles filled the atmosphere.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is the associated diseases can take many, many years to develop - frequently long after the worker has left the employer. It can also be challenging to diagnose asbestos-related ailments because their symptoms are similar to those of other, less serious conditions. It is very important, therefore, that men and women that worked at or spent much time near sites like the Yorktown Refinery ask their physicians for a mesothelioma treatment guide. New methods for treating the disease are being developed in efforts to find a mesothelioma cure, and early detection gives patients and their doctors the best chance to combat the previously deathly form of cancer.Sources
All Business - Giant Experiences Fire at Yorktown Refinery
Earth Times - Western Refining, Inc. Announces Fourth Quarter 2009 Earnings Conference Call
PR Newswire - EIP Report: U.S. Refinery Emissions of Carcinogen Benzene Up 9 Percent, as Industry Faulted for Haphazard Reporting of Pollution Data
Giant Refining - Company Website
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
Western Refining - Company Website
Western Refining - Yorktown Oil Refinery