Residents from around the region addressed the Superior City Council about their concerns with the use of hydrogen fluoride at the Husky Energy refinery.
Citing a 2011 report by the Center for Public Integrity, Kevin Swanberg of Duluth said it endangers 180,000 people living in the region.
“I came here tonight because I am concerned about hydrogen fluoride that is housed at the Husky Superior refinery, and I am concerned about the threat that poses for our community,” Swanberg said.
Brenda Martini of Cloquet remembers the 1992 benzene spill caused by a train derailing in rural Superior, prompting mass evacuations in the Twin Ports. The wind carried the toxic cloud across the bay and forced evacuations in Duluth.
“What they were doing is going door-to-door in Carlton County, warning us to stay inside. They did come to my door … and did the same thing,” Martini said. “That’s kind of my concern. Because we live by the big pond and we know how that wind change can happen on a dime. This would affect more than just the city of Superior, Wisconsin. When this stuff goes airborne, it’s not going to know this is the stateline.”
Martini said the air didn’t smell right in Carlton County or Duluth in the days following the Husky explosion. “There was that smell and taste of burnt rubber in the air,” she said.
Martini said she still has a number of questions she would like answered.
Mayor Jim Paine said he anticipates more answers in coming weeks when the U.S. Chemical and Safety Investigation Board releases some initial facts concerning their investigation.
“I’m not here to smear anyone’s character or destroy anyone’s reputation or ability to make a living, but I’m here because I’m deeply concerned about this use of hydrogen fluoride,” Cheryl Dahlberg of Superior said. “I think by now we’ve all been made aware of the dangers and also we’ve been made aware there are reasonable alternatives available. If you take a look at the reports from Husky Energy, we see that they’re up 250 percent in their profits. I think that they have the financial resources to make this change.”
Inese Holte, who lives just outside of Duluth, said she would like to see Husky Energy do what Chevron is doing at its refinery in Salt Lake City, Utah. Chevron is replacing HF alkylation with ionic liquids alkylation using proprietary technology developed by the company, according to the Oil & Gas Journal.
Holte said she would like to see the city urge Husky to use a safer product.
“You here hold the power of life and death over a huge amount of people including myself, my children, my grandchildren and all the other people that I know,” Holte said. ” … I hope that your legacy, all of your legacy, will that you will be known — that you are the people and you will go down in history as the people who wanted to protect the lives of 180,000 people. You have that power. I do not.”
Jnana Hand of Duluth said she moved to the area for its natural beauty, but she is “super-concerned” about the hydrogen fluoride at the Husky Energy refinery.
“I’m sure we all are,” Hand said. “We could’ve all just past away from that. It was what, 150 feet that the fire needed to spread. So it’s kind of like our wake up call … We’ve got other options. I’m asking you to have an ordinance that hydrogen fluoride is not welcome in Superior.”
Paine said City Attorney Frog Prell is investigating the city’s ability to regulate in this case, but he is doubtful that any such regulation to ban hydrogen fluoride would even have an impact on the existing tank at Husky Energy.
“It might impact another refinery coming to town,” Paine said.