Will the AQMD save us from dangerous hydrofluoric acid?


By Melanie Cohen and Al Sattler

Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is continuing to work to develop a Rule 1410, to regulate dangerous hydrofluoric acid in South Bay refineries. Since April 2017, they have been holding public hearings and gathering technical information. At the April 28 meeting of the AQMD Refinery Committee in Torrance, UCLA professor and chemical safety expert Dr. Craig Merlic did a presentation, calling hydrogen fluoride (HF) highly hazardous and a systemic poison, with a boiling point close to room temperature. If released in large amounts, a cloud of HF aerosol would drift with the wind and could be catastrophic in urban neighborhoods of Torrance, Wilmington, and nearby cities.

The AQMD Staff presentation included one page “Accidents Happen”.

Members of the public, including local residents and teachers, called for HF to be phased out from the refineries within 4 or 5 years, saying that a refinery explosion like the one in 2015, or an earthquake, or other unpredictable disaster, could release HF, killing thousands of people.

The refinery representatives continued to provide their excuses NOT to convert from using HF: No replacement technologies available (BUT there is a refinery that has in Salt Lake), refineries will not make money, (BUT there are state and federal tax breaks, especially since the tax “reform” bill recently passed).

Union members who work at the refineries have been told that the refineries will close if they are forced to convert from using HF, so they are afraid for their jobs. Members of many other unions turned out to show their support.

The refineries continue to say that a modifier they have added to the HF will make it safe, and call it MHF. Dr. Burke, the Chair of the AQMD Board, and Sam Atwood, AQMD staff member, seemed frustrated that the refineries would not disclose the amount of modifier needed to make the refining process safe.

Board member Councilwoman Judy Mitchell from Rolling Hills Estates used the title of a Steel Workers study to voice her objection: “A risk well-managed may well be a risk too great.”

Express support for MHF replacement within four years.

The next meeting of the AQMD Refinery Committee will be in August or September in Wilmington, date and location to be determined.

What can I do, to help get HF out of our communities? Contact Melanie Cohen, Sierra Club Conservation Co-Chair, at melaniecohen372@gmail.com. Come to a TRAA meeting, first and third Mondays at 6 p.m. at Sizzler, 2880 Sepulveda Blvd., Torrance. Write or call SCAQMD officials (visit TRAASouthBay.com to send an email). Call your mayor and city council. 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.


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