ARTESIA – An accident at Navajo Refining on Monday morning left one man injured as several agencies responded to an acid release.
Shortly before 9 a.m., a call went out for assistance to the refinery. Crews later found a leak, which was the result of a defective valve in a -inch bleeder line connected to an acid pump at the facility, according to state police. The leak involved a product called anhydrous hydrogen fluoride, or hydrofluoric acid.
James Polito, a Navajo employee, was working on the line at the time of the incident and suffered chemical burns to his face, right arm and leg, officials said. After being treated at the scene, Polito was transported to Artesia General Hospital, where he was treated, according to a Navajo Refining press release.
Polito, 36, was scheduled to be released from the hospital by the end of the day Monday. The acid was released from the bleeder line on an acid pump case and vaporized upon contact with the atmosphere, generating a vapor cloud, officials said.
The vapor mitigation system was activated and the acid was contained within the facility, Navajo’s Mark A. Plake said. The all-clear signal was sounded at 9:07 a.m, indicating the end of the emergency. Anhydrous hydrogen fluoride is a corrosive acid used in the manufacture of high-octane fuel.
Cottrell added that as a safety precaution, 18 homes and two businesses near the refinery were temporarily evacuated. All of the vapors had been mitigated by Navajo’s fire team before reaching the homes or businesses, officials said.
Duke Younger, Navajo’s safety and risk manager, acted as incident commander. Response teams included the Navajo’s fire team; the Artesia Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services; the Artesia Police Department; the Eddy County Sheriff’s Department; and the New Mexico State Police.
Capt. Kent Bratcher of the Artesia Fire Department noted that the response included four fire trucks and two ambulances. The department routinely responds for any emergency at the refinery and was on the scene within minutes of the call.
Sgt. Danny Kiper of the state police said of all the responding units, “They did a good job. It came together real well. Everybody responded very appropriately and Navajo Refinery took care of the problem pretty rapidly. As far as evacuation of the residential area, it wasn’t all that necessary because they had it very much under control” within a very short time.
Joel Arnwine, Eddy County’s fire marshal and emergency preparedness coordinator, was contacted initially, when it seemed that evacuation might be imminent.
A full-scale evacuation was not necessary, although employees at the Artesia Community Center prepared to accommodate as many citizens as might be necessary, officials said.