Environment & Science

Torrance residents, politicians call for ban on hydrofluoric acid at refinery

An explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance caused four minor injuries on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.
An explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance caused four minor injuries on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.
Daniella Segura/KPCC

South Bay area politicians and activists on Monday called for a ban on an acid used at the Torrance refinery, speaking just hours after residents were presented with an unplanned flareup at the facility.

Hydrofluoric acid is used in the refining of petroleum to create gasoline, but it can pose a danger to the public when not handled properly.

“Hydrofluoric acid is extremely dangerous. It is so dangerous that if released into the air, it forms a vapor cloud that travels around with the wind and kills people who come in contact with it,” Congressman Ted Lieu of Torrance said.

The refinery uses a modified version of hydrofluoric acid, but critics say the formula isn’t much safer than the original.

Lieu was joined by former state Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who cited a recent report commissioned by the South Coast Air Quality Management District that found there are safer alternatives refineries can use, such as sulfuric acid and solid acid.

According to the report, sulfuric acid can reduce the potential threat of vapor clouds, but it can also increase the need for the transport of acid along highways and surface streets. A solid acid system would eliminate both risks.

Muratsuchi, who is running for another term in the Assembly, laid out a six-point plan to overhaul the safety guidelines at the refinery. In addition to an outright ban on the use of modified hydrofluoric acid, the points included:

An unplanned flaring event occurred Monday morning, the second in two days. The flareup prompted the closure of Del Amo Boulevard between Maple Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.

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The spectacle of flames shooting high into the air likely unsettled residents who last year endured an explosion at the facility that left four people injured and dropped smoke and ash on the surrounding neighborhood.

ExxonMobil, which owned the refinery then, was fined more than $500,000.

The refinery was eventually sold to PBF Energy, which owns several other refineries around the country. The facility was restarted in May, but residents have continued to harbor concerns over safety.