The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review its existing hydrofluoric acid study to determine the effectiveness of existing regulations and the viability of utilizing inherently safer alkylation technologies in petroleum refineries.
“In the last 4 years, the CSB has investigated two refinery incidents where an explosion elevated the threat of a release of HF, Kristen Kulinowski, CSB interim executive, said in a statement Wednesday. “Refinery workers and surrounding community residents are rightly concerned about the adequacy of the risk management for the use of hazardous chemicals like HF. The EPA should review its 1993 HF study to ensure the health and safety of communities near petroleum refineries utilizing HF.”
Hydrofluoric acid is a highly toxic chemical that can seriously injure or cause death at a concentration of 30 parts per million, which is used in about 50 of the roughly 150 refineries in the United States, as well as many other industries, according to the CSB. In a refinery, the chemical is used as a catalyst in the creation of a blending agent for high octane gasoline.
On Feb. 8, 2015, an explosion occurred at a refinery in Torrance, California, when a pollution device exploded during maintenance activities, according to the CSB’s letter to the EPA. On April 26, 2018, an explosion and subsequent fire occurred at the Superior Refinery Co. LLC refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, resulting in 36 people seeking medical treatment, including 11 injured refinery and contract workers, and a partial evacuation of the community.
In both of its investigations, the CSB conducted a public hearing in which members of the surrounding communities expressed their concerns about the adequacy of the risk management strategies for the use of HF and the effectiveness of community notification procedures in the event of a catastrophic release, according to the CSB’s statement.
The EPA has the authority to initiate and update its 1993 study and broadly disseminate its results under its Risk Management Program regulation as well as its general duty clause, according to CSB.
“The EPA is the appropriate agency to assess the adequacy of risk management for the use of chemicals like HF,” Ms. Kulinowski said. “Refiners, their workforce and communities that surround the refineries need assurances that the risk plans are adequate to prevent a catastrophic release.”
The EPA is reviewing the Chemical Safety Board letter, an EPA spokesperson said via email.