Steve Goldsmith of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance said air board members “caved into the pressure by the oil industry” with a decision that “leaves South L.A. County residents exposed to catastrophic danger.”
Air quality regulators on Friday killed a years-long push for stronger regulation of a dangerous acid used at two South Bay refineries that has frightened many neighbors, voting instead to accept a voluntary, oil industry pledge to enhance safety measures.
The decision by the South Coast Air Quality Management District governing board came just one week after the two refineries, in Torrance and Wilmington, offered a way to avoid tougher restrictions. They sent letters offering to install improved safety systems in the coming years if regulators ended their pursuit of a rule or agreement to reduce the risk of a catastrophic release of modified hydrofluoric acid, also referred to as MHF.
PES estimated that 5,239 pounds of hydrofluoric acid released from piping and equipment during the incident. It estimated that 1,968 pounds of the released hydrofluoric acid [38%] was contained by water spray within the unit and was processed in the refinery wastewater treatment plant, and that 3,271 pounds of hydrofluoric acid [63%] released to the atmosphere and was not contained by water spray.
Factual Update — October 16, 2019 — Incident Summary
On June 21, 2019, a major process loss of containment caused a fire and explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining and Marketing LLC (PES) Refinery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
PES estimated that 5,239 pounds of hydrofluoric acid released
from piping and equipment during the incident. . . . Dr. Ron Koopman, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory senior scientist (retired), said the HF that was released at PES was likely dispersed by the intense explosion. “The explosion is nasty — it could kill people, but it’s not the principal hazard. It’s the toxic gas [HF] that could continue to be toxic downwind. Sometimes, the explosion and the fire is your friend.”
A piece of pipe, long overdue for replacement, spilled highly combustible hydrocarbons mixed with a dangerous chemical and caused the devastating explosions and fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in the early morning of June 21. One explosion sent a 38,000-pound vessel — about the same weight as a firetruck — across the Schuylkill River, where it landed on the waterway’s banks, near the company’s tank farm. PES estimates the incident released about 676,000 pounds of hydrocarbons, most of it — about 608,000 pounds — burned in the fire and explosions.
“PES had a policy that any pipe thinner than 0.18 inch would be replaced. The Chemical Safety Board’s investigation found that the ruptured pipe was only 0.012 inch thick [the thickness of three sheets of copy paper] — less than a tenth of the thickness that would have triggered a replacement.”
Those are some of the details in a report released Wednesday by the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. The report also says an estimated 3,271 pounds of the dangerous hydrofluoric acid was released into the atmosphere, while the refinery’s water spray system contained about 1,968 pounds of HF. The release of the chemical did not cause any injuries. City officials had previously reported they did not detect any HF escaping.
“How many times do we try this before we actually get a release that kills 1,000 people? . . . People should never have been allowed to live this close to these refineries. It’s just unconscionable to have allowed that to happen.”
~ Dr. Ron Koopman, conductor of the 1986 “Goldfish” hydrogen fluoride release tests in the Nevada desert
In the predawn hours of June 21, explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia shook houses, sent fireballs into the air and woke up nearby residents.
“Three loud explosions, one after the other, boom, boom boom!” says David Masur, who lives about two miles from the plant and has two young kids. “It’s a little nerve-wracking.”
Masur watched as the refinery spewed black smoke above the city, easily visible from his home. But what he didn’t know at the time was just how close he and his family came to getting exposed to hydrogen fluoride, one of the deadliest chemicals used by refiners and other industrial manufacturers.
by Daniel Horowitz, an organic chemist and former managing director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
A fiery refinery blast in Philadelphia could be just the beginning.
Last month’s spectacularexplosions at a large Philadelphia oil refinery complex injured five workers, terrorized city residents and drove up gasoline prices. But the impact could have been vastly worse had the explosions triggered a release from the refinery’s huge inventory of toxic hydrogen fluoride — up to 420,000 pounds’ worth, according to information the company filed with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017. That disaster, had it occurred amid the chaos on the morning of June 21, would have imperiled hundreds of thousands of people living within a few miles of the plant. …
Video of the 1986 “Goldfish” Release Test of hydrofluoric acid (HF), one of the world’s most dangerous industrial chemicals, shows the formation and spread of a ground-hugging toxic cloud. In the test carried out by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory research scientist Dr. Ronald R. Koopman, 8,300 lbs. of HF were released within 2 minutes. 100% of the acid became airborne in a dense, ground-hugging cloud of deadly HF. Two miles downwind, the HF cloud had more than twice the lethal concentration. Consider that each of the two settler tanks at the Torrance Refinery holds 50,000 lbs. of HF — six times more than the 1986 “Goldfish” Release Test.
Compare these “Goldfish” test results to the large-scale accidental release of the vastly safer alternative sulfuric acid at the Tesoro Refinery in Martinez, California, on February 12, 2014.
While the Torrance and Wilmington Valero refineries use Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF) with 6-10% sulfolane to reduce volatility, the amount is far too little to prevent a toxic cloud, a fact that has been confirmed by the AQMD.
A Performance Standard Must Be Designed to Protect the Community, Not Tailored to What the Refineries Are Able to Meet with Enhanced Mitigation
A Performance Standard, with hydrogen fluoride (HF) phase-out if it cannot be met, has become the central approach adopted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District Staff for either a regulation or a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Valero in Wilmington and PBF’s Torrance Refining Company, the only two refineries in California that use HF. SCAQMD welcomes community input, and the TRAA Science Advisory Panel of six South Bay scientists and engineers is providing expert professional advice with A Rule 1410 Performance Standard to Protect the Community. Its three parts are: 1) A Benchmark, which must be met to ensure the community remains safe if a major HF release occurs, 2) Release Scenarios, which could be caused by Earthquakes, Accidents, or Terrorists (EAT), and 3) Ground rules for the refineries’ attempt to Demonstrate by analysis, modeling, and testing that they can meet the Benchmark. Interim measures are also specified to increase community protection until HF is phased out.
The Performance Standard is summarized below and given with full rationales in the following sections.
BENCHMARK TO PROTECT THE COMMUNITY
The general population, including susceptible individuals, shall not experience “irreversible or other serious, long-lasting adverse health effects, or an impaired ability to escape,” as proscribed by Acute Exposure Guideline Level 2 (AEGL 2). All points from the refineries’ fenceline and beyond, shall not exceed any of the AEGL 2 threshold concentrations for exposure durations of 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 4 hours, and 8 hours. –
A rupture of any of the refinery’s HF Containment Subsystems releasing the entire amount of HF: 1) in any duration from 5 seconds to 4 hours or, 2) from the break of any size subsystem pipe. –
DEMONSTRATION BY ANALYSIS & MODELING
Only passive mitigation measures, defined by the EPA as “equipment, devices, or technologies that function without human, mechanical, or other energy input,” shall be allowed in the demonstration attempt. In accordance with the EPA’s RMP Guidance for Offsite Consequence Analysis for worst-case releases, active mitigation measures such as water spray shall not be allowed because they can be deactivated by the same calamitous event that causes the rupture. –
No proprietary data shall be allowed in the analysis or modeling. If after six months the refineries can show they have a creditable plan that can meet the Benchmark, three years shall be allowed for the refineries to carry out a full-scale experimental demonstration to validate their analysis and modeling. Failure of the modeling or experimental verification shall mean all HF shall be removed from the refinery grounds within four years from the initial approval of Rule 1410. –
INTERIM ENHANCED MITIGATION
To protect the public from HF releases in the interim, the refineries shall enhance their mitigation system as much as feasible as determined by the SCAQMD. –
The refineries shall have a SCAQMD-approved emergency plan in place within six months, and then institute it, at their expense, to remedy the shocking lack of medicine and facilities to treat victims of a major HF release. –
The refineries shall certify within six months, to the satisfaction of SCAQMD, that their operations are safe from a cyber-attack. –
The refineries shall demonstrate within six months that they have financial resources in place — through liability insurance, bonds, or corporate resources — to cover claims against them from 15,000 deaths (the estimated fatalities in the 1987 Bhopal, India catastrophe, which released a similar amount of toxic chemical found in one Torrance refinery settler tank). Bankruptcy is not an acceptable response.