Mitigation measures won’t stop deadly HF, says Chemical Safety Board

The SCAQMD failed the community too, but there’s still hope

By Steve Dillow, Conservation Co-Chair

Following the June explosion at a Philadelphia refinery, which caused it to permanently close, our local refinery spokesman bragged that it proved that their mitigation efforts to contain hydrogen fluoride (HF or MHF) worked perfectly. He said there was no release of the deadly chemical at all. But on Oct. 16, in its report on the accident, the federal Chemical Safety Board showed that the recent Philadelphia Refinery explosion did in fact release over 5000 pounds of HF, and that their mitigation efforts (water sprays mostly) reduced the release by only 38%. The only reason that it didn’t injure or kill tens of thousands of nearby residents is that a few minutes after a pipe leaked, and a mixture of propane and HF was released, it caught fire, producing a series of explosions that evidently caused the vapor cloud to disperse up into the air stream, but completely destroyed the refinery. (So the refinery representatives weren’t entirely truthful.)

Nevertheless, going against the warnings of their own staff, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) approved proposals from the two local refineries to continue the use of HF! The Board voted on Sep. 6 to allow them to continue using the chemical if they just add slightly more mitigation – the same things that didn’t work in Philadelphia! The refineries’ offers were made, and suddenly added to the SCAQMD agenda, over the Labor Day weekend, with objection letters only accepted until that Tuesday. The vote, which had been scheduled for November, was abruptly changed to the Sept. 6 meeting, giving opponents like the Sierra Club little chance to respond.

Thanks to County Supervisor Janice Hahn and local mayor Judy Mitchell for speaking out against this atrocity, and for persevering in the battle against HF. And to the cities, neigh- against this atrocity, and for persevering in the battle against HF. And to the cities, neigh- borhood councils, unions, and other community organizations who kept this issue alive.

We are not finished! Keep watching for our next actions. On Oct. 18, the Daily Breeze reported, “A federal district court judge has issued a ruling certifying two classes of plaintiffs affected by the 2015 Torrance Refinery explosion, clearing the way for a class-action lawsuit that seeks to have the plant declared a public nuisance.” 

And if you are also disgusted by the SCAQMD decision, please write to express your anger and ask them to reconsider. Write to Chairman Burke’s aide Marie Patrick ( and ask her to distribute it to all board members. A vote on the issue by the full AQMD board could come in the next months.

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