In a weeklong public safety awareness blitz, local activists are distributing 100,000 door hangers to South Bay homes surrounding the Torrance refinery, the same number they say could be affected by a catastrophic leak of a toxic chemical the plant uses to refine gasoline.
The $10,000 campaign by grass-roots group the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance is intended to communicate to residents who live near the refinery about the danger posed by modified hydrofluoric acid. It could form a poisonous gas cloud if released in the wake of an earthquake, explosion or fire that could kill or injure tens of thousands.
The modified form of HF contains an agent intended to prevent formation of the gas cloud, but activists — and government officials — question the effectiveness of the additive and whether it really improves public safety.
Count Redondo Beach resident Mara Lang, TRAA’s social media coordinator and newsletter editor, among the skeptics.
She was driving along Del Amo Boulevard near the refinery when the February 2015 explosion occurred that almost caused a catastrophic release of HF and spawned TRAA.
“I used to sleep with my windows open every night,” said the television commercial production manager. “I do not do that anymore. If there was a release, I’m not confident that information on the release would get to me on time to save my life, to save my family’s lives.
“The (emergency) alert system is lacking, the siren is lacking,” Lang added. “The refinery has proven time and again they are happy to cover up what they need to continue business. I don’t really trust anyone involved.”
Using funds donated by members and a modest $2,500 grant from Los Angeles-based social justice nonprofit the Liberty Hill Foundation, whose mission includes “seed-funding” fledgling community groups like TRAA, a company was hired to distribute the hangers.
The hangers are bright red on one side with a map showing neighborhoods at risk from a worst-case HF release and the words “public safety warning.”
The other side is a call to action that explains the danger, what’s being done about it and what residents can do to support the effort.
That includes emailing the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which is looking at adopting a new rule by year’s end that could phase out use of the acid in the only two California refineries that use it, the PBF Energy-owned refinery in Torrance the the Valero refinery in Wilmington.
TRAA volunteers like Lang and Cathy Clay, chairwoman of the TRAA outreach committee spearheading the effort, will follow up the delivery of the hangers with plans to knock on as many as 1,500 doors by Christmas.
“We find that when we talk to people, encourage them to talk to their neighbors, it hits home harder than just a piece of paper,” Clay said.
The effort appears to be working.
About 100 people this week who logged onto the group’s website at TRAASouthBay.com emailed a letter uploaded there supporting the campaign to ban MHF.
Clay said volunteers also receive positive responses from about two of every three people who answer the knock on their doors.
That was true Wednesday, when residents contacted at two of the first three homes on 188th Street in Torrance — where the refinery looms over homes — agreed to sign a petition supporting the proposed AQMD rule.
Jen Gjerde, who ran down the street to flag down Clay after she knocked on her door, went further.
Gjerde, a mother of three who already followed the group’s Facebook page, agreed to put a “Ban MHF’ sign on her lawn in addition to signing the petition.
“It’s something they should change by any means, any cost,” she said. “Safety is more important.
“It’s scary,” Gjerde added. “It’s important to just get rid of it.”
*See photos and original article online at http://www.dailybreeze.com/2017/11/01/torrance-group-launches-public-outreach-over-refinery-dangers/