On June 22, the AQMD Refinery Committee voted 3-2 to allow tons of toxic volatile hydrogen fluoride (HF) to remain at two local refineries, Torrance PBF and Wilmington Valero. This is totally unacceptable. There is no other place in the United States where refineries use deadly HF in such a densely populated urban area.
HF gas can be absorbed through the skin and lungs, binding with the body’s calcium, and damaging lungs. With higher concentrations or longer exposures, it can kill. A major leak of HF would form a deadly ground-hugging vapor cloud drifting with the wind, unlike all other alternatives. Therefore it threatens the entire community for miles around.
Instead of getting HF out of our communities, this proposal would merely allow refineries to add more water sprays, pumps, sensors, and video displays, and pretend that it would make us safe.
The fight is not over!
These are the only two refineries in California that use deadly HF. Safer alternatives exist, but the refineries don’t want to spend the money to convert. They are quite profitable, so they would probably convert rather than close.
Community groups and many individuals made excellent presentations at the hearing about why HF should be phased out. Two local AQMD Board members spoke strongly about the need to protect public health by phasing out the use of deadly HF: Rolling Hills Estates Mayor Judy Mitchell and Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn.
Unfortunately, the majority of the Refinery Committee voted for the AQMD staff to write a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with each refinery, for the refineries to theoretically keep a person in the closest permanent home safe from “irreversible health effects”. People who are closer could all be exposed to more HF: People in schools or businesses, people walking their dogs, homeless people living in their cars, or people in passing vehicles, could all be permanently afflicted.
The refineries would be allowed to assume a 1-inch hole in an HF vessel, with people exposed for no more than 10 minutes. The Torrance refinery explosion in 2015 could have been much worse than that. A flying 40-ton piece of debris almost hit the large tank containing HF. Accidents and earthquakes happen. In a major catastrophe, if a toxic cloud lingered, or medical care was delayed (think earthquake, or hospitals overwhelmed by massive casualties), “reversible” health effects could become permanent. Eye irritation could become blindness, skin ulcers and lung irritation could become an irregular heartbeat or fluid buildup in the lungs, or death.
The only safe HF is no HF! “Modified” HF (MHF) is no safer than HF!
The full AQMD Board will vote on this in November. In the meantime, we need to convince everybody how absurd this is, that it will not protect the public. To help in this campaign, email us and make your voice heard by signing our petition and urge the South Coast Air Quality Management District Board to ban deadly HF and MHF.