By Melanie Cohen, Conservation Co-Chair (Photo: Linda Teach)
On January 20, 2018, more than 500 local residents and refinery workers overflowed the Torrance Holiday Inn conference room to testify before the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) on the Proposed Rule 1410 to ban modified hydrofluoric acid (MHF) in two refineries in the South Bay (Torrance Refinery and Valero Refinery, Wilmington). Hydrofluoric acid is extremely hazardous because it not only burns skin upon contact, but also damages bones and can be fatal. It vaporizes quickly into a cloud at a mere 61º F.
The proposed rule results from pressure by the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance (TRAA) and public hearings held after the explosion at the refinery in 2015 that narrowly missed a settler tank of 50,000 pounds of MHF. If the tank had been struck, the released MHF would have created a ground-hugging cloud toxic enough to cause death and serious injuries up to 16 miles away.
The staff of the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has accepted that MHF is dangerous. AQMD staff suggested three alternatives to “control” MHF. These mitigations including alarms, barriers around the settler tanks, or underground storage with barriers cost from $50 million to $150 million. A more sensible alternative is converting the plant to use a much less volatile chemical, sulfuric acid. Prices to do so range from $100 to $330 million. Most of the public, including TRAA
and Sierra Club members, spoke in favor of replacing MHF and those who work at the plant, fearing job loss, supported keeping the chemical. Two AQMD board members, Clarke E. Parker, Sr, PhD, and SCAQMD Chairman William A. Burke, EdD, spoke strongly for replacement.
Rally and March to Ban MHF in Torrance
“Stop Risking Our Lives; We are Kids of the City” and “Teachers For A Ban on MHF” read some signs, as more than 300 people marched from Colombia Park in Torrance to the entrance of the Torrance Refining Company to demand a ban on toxic MHF. Chants went up: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, MHF has got to go!” The rally assembled at the park to hear folk singer Ross Altman, and speakers including Assemblywoman Nanette Barrigan, representatives from Maxine Waters and Al Muratsuchi, Torrance council members Tim Goodrich and Kurt Weideman, as well as TRAA President Sally Hayati. More than 20 environmental and local citizens’ groups joined TRAA in sponsoring the march. This second annual march was held on the third anniversary of the near-miss explosion to alert the public to this issue and what can be done. Sierra Club supports the TRAA. Here are some ways to help:
Come to a TRAA meeting, first and third Mondays at 6 p.m. at Sizzler, 2880 Sepulveda Blvd., Torrance. Express support for MHF replacement within four years. Write or call SCAQMD officials (visit TRAASouthBay.com to send an email). Call your mayor and city council. Write a letter to a newspaper (email@example.com) Spread the word. At TRAASouthBay.com you can sign up for a newsletter and learn more ways to help, including some easy ways to publicize the cause.