At a time when state lawmakers and air quality regulators are weighing a possible ban on a deadly chemical used at refineries in Torrance and Wilmington, Torrance City Fire Department officials plan to defend the chemical at a public meeting Tuesday evening.
Torrance residents have been asking questions about the safety of modified hydrofluoric acid since a big explosion and fire at the refinery two years ago. A multi-ton chunk of debris from the blast just missed a tank holding tens of thousands of pounds of the acid, also called MHF.
The previous owner of the refinery -- Exxon Mobil -- said MHF has the potential to form a toxic cloud that could travel for miles in a large-scale release. The substance is in use at only two refineries in California, at Torrance and the Valero Refinery in Wilmington.
The Torrance Fire Department plans a show-and-tell of the safety features installed at the refinery to keep a spill of the acid from forming a toxic cloud. It will be the first public showing of photos of some of the protective devices used to keep MHF from moving away from the plant. They include a wrapping similar to a diaper surrounding flanges in the plant, and settling pans to collect any chemical that might leak.
"The system that was set up in the late 1990s works," Deputy Fire Chief David Dumais told KPCC. He is the city's official safety liaison to the refinery. He plans to explain to the public why the form of MHF used at the refinery is safer than the undiluted form of Hydrofluoric Acid it replaced decades ago.
Executives with the massive Torrance Refinery are also scheduled to speak.
South Bay Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi has introduced a bill to phase out MHF at refineries. The South Coast Air Quality Management District is also considering a ban.