Carson Refinery Explosion Reignites Fears

  • Posted on 28 February 2020
  • By Will McWhinney

On Tuesday, February 25th, a major fire broke out at the Marathon Petroleum Refinery in Carson that was sparked by an explosion in one of their cooling towers. It raged out of control for six hours. 

LA County Fire Dept at Carson Refinery Explosion & Fire @LACoFDPIO
LA County Fire Dept at Carson Refinery Explosion & Fire @LACoFDPIO

The refinery is the largest on the West Coast. As a result of the fire, the Los Angeles basin, home to millions of people, was filled with soot and harmful gases. The 405 Freeway had to be closed. Marathon Oil Corporation, which earned $480 million in profit in 2019, claimed that “no risk to the community has been identified”, despite the plumes of flames lighting up the night sky. Even after the uncontrolled fire was extinguished, the refinery engaged in emergency flaring of flammable gases, emitting particulate matter (soot), as well as harmful chemicals such as SOx, NOx, and VOCs

The South Bay, home to several large refineries, has the worst air quality in the U.S. Just last year, the Phillips 66 refinery in Carson was the site of two accidents leading to fires

February 15 was the fifth anniversary of another refinery accident which narrowly avoided a release of MHF (modified hydrofluoric acid) forming a toxic cloud which could have killed thousands of people. Exxon Mobil’s Refinery, now called the Torrance Refinery after being purchased by PBF Energy, uses modified hydrofluoric acid, an extremely dangerous chemical, in its alkylation process to produce high octane gasoline, and so does the Valermo Wilmington Refinery. There have been ten leaks of MHF just since 2017. 

Conversion to a safer process would save lives in the event of an explosion which caused the accidental release of MHF. The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, (TRAA) together with the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter’s PV-South Bay Regional Group, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and other organizations, are fighting to force local refineries to completely ban the use of MHF in their operations.  However, despite numerous hearings and scientific evidence presented to the AQMD (Air Quality Management District), it has sided with the Petroleum industry and chose to allow this chemical to be used at these two refineries in our communities.

Contact the TRAA at:, or Al Sattler, PV-South Bay Regional leader at:  for information on how to make your voice heard on this vital issue.


Photo and Video by LA County Fire Dept @LACoFDPIO

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This is unacceptable, peoples lives are not valued over money. This needs to stop! The air is not breathable. Close the location down! I am no longer a customer of gasoline for my vehicles and proud.

This concerns me as I live within a few miles of this refinery (and others). The companies need to address these problems before there is a catastrophic leak. Thank you

I live just a few miles north of the oil refinery in Torrance and remember hearing about the spreading of lead several miles from a car battery recycling business. I want to know why you keep on using dangerous chemicals such as MHF. Do you prefer to kill us all?

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