Why We Need to Ban MHF Now in CA Refineries

  • Posted on 21 March 2019
  • By Steve Dillow and Al Sattler

What is the greatest threat to life in Los Angeles County? We are aware of wildfires, earthquakes and floods, but what about the dangerous chemical used at two local refineries –modified hydrogen fluoride (MHF). Many tons of this deadly acid are stored in Torrance and Wilmington, threatening the well-being of tens of thousands of people across the region.

Four years ago there was an explosion at the Torrance Refinery (then Exxon-Mobil) in which a 40-ton piece of equipment was blown 100 feet off the roof of a building. Had it gone six feet farther it would have smashed a tank and associated pipelines containing 50,000 lbs. of MHF. The federal Chemical Safety Board and CBS News labeled the close call a “near catastrophe.” That is because MHF vaporizes at room temperature, and forms a ground-hugging cloud that injures or kills if it gets on a person's skin or lungs. That cloud would travel for many miles and hover around for hours until it dissipates.

Since that time local scientists, conservationists and activists have done much research into the hazards, and tried to get word out to the community. As a result, the state passed a series of laws last year to monitor the air around the refineries and set up an alert system. And the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Board is considering a rule to ban MHF entirely.

This Rule 1410 is in its final stages now. At the Feb. 1 meeting of the SCAQMD Board the staff presentation made it clear that MHF is far too dangerous in such a densely populated area. We were reminded of an explosion and fire at the Husky Refinery in Superior Wisconsin last year where they had to evacuate a 70 square mile area downwind. Such a thing cannot be done in our South Bay. But the Board ordered the SCAQMD staff to come back to the Refinery Committee in 90 days with a proposal to phase it out, unless the refineries could prove it “safe.”

To protect workers and our communities from this dangerous chemical, the SCAQMD Board must act now and pass regulations to phase out hydrofluoric acid. We have until the beginning of May to convince the Board to create the strongest rule possible and finally rid us of this dire threat.

So far Congressmembers Ted Lieu, Nanette Barragán, and Maxine Waters, Assemblymember Muratsuchi, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the City Councils of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach and Neighborhood Councils throughout the South Bay have sent letters to support a ban.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD! Please sign our petition at sc.org/ca-refineries and urge the South Coast Air Quality Management District Board to ban deadly MHF.

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