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A working photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Oil Refinery worker, Deer Park Texas

Oil Refinery worker, Deer Park Texas

It’s not officially summer yet but with the record heat today it sure feels like August here in Atlanta.  How about where you live?

On an equally hot but more humid summer afternoon an assignment for an industrial remediation firm took me t0 Deer Park, Texas. The client’s business was cleaning out the sludge that builds up in oil storage tanks at refineries. The less “sweet” the crude is the worse the sludge. The sediment is a thick and tarry slurry of oil. As ugly as the stuff looks it smells even worse.

They way they do it is to cut a large hole in the side of the tank and then start scooping it out with a backhoe. Once the backhoe has gotten out as much as it can, workers went in with shovels. Once it was out of the tank the storage tank they’d mix the muck with a kind of sand to keep evaporation down and haul it away. This guy had some of this sandy material – it felt like a really gritty fine-grained cat litter — blow back on him. He was just about to wash his face with a high-powered hose when I made his portrait.

It is a truly nasty job for the guys who do it but at the time (mid 1980’s) it paid well, about $25.00 an hour for unskilled labor. The job was so foul I asked the foreman about how people managed to stick with it out. “They don’t,” he replied, “the turnover rate is 500%.”

“500% per year?”

“No.”

“Per Month?”

“500% per week. Guys come in to work in the morning, leave for lunch and don’t even come back to pick up their paycheck.”

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