The Chevron Phillips Sweeny Plant operates along the Gulf of Mexico in Old Ocean, Texas. It is one of several Chevron Phillips Chemical Company plants in the state and one of 34 Chevron Phillips plants worldwide. It currently produces the petrochemicals ethylene and propylene.
The Sweeny Plant opened in 1942. Initially, it was a government-run operation and processed carbon black for use in synthetic rubber. Phillips Petroleum later took ownership and converted the plant to an oil refinery, natural gas producer, and petrochemicals facility. It was renamed the Chevron Phillips Sweeny Plant in 2000.
Until the late 1970s, the mineral asbestos was commonly used at the Sweeny Plant and thousands of other factories around the world. Asbestos was known to be a highly effective and durable insulator and was thus built into the pipes, boilers, furnaces, and other parts of factories to help prevent fires and heat-related injuries. It was also used in protective gear, workbenches, and other items with which employees had direct contact.
Although it was widely used, asbestos is a dangerous mineral associated with lung disease. Its fibers pose a serious hazard as insulation materials age and otherwise break down. Consequently, thousands of factory employees have developed lung problems such as scarring, asbestosis and, most seriously, malignant mesothelioma.
The effects of inhaling asbestos fibers are generally latent for 20 to 50 years after the exposure. Since the symptoms can be latent for so long, it’s common for patients to be diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma when the disease has already reached a late stage of development.
Mesothelioma is a cancer and there is no known cure. However, treatment can relieve pain, shortness of breath, weight loss, and other symptoms while prolonging survival. That said, patients’ life expectancy is usually short once a diagnosis has been made. In addition to trying alternative and mainstream treatments, people diagnosed with mesothelioma can qualify for trials of treatments under development. Research is also underway to develop a method of early mesothelioma detection.