Fluoride Action Network

Citgo Toxic Release Termed ‘Significant’ by Federal Agency

Source: Bloomberg News | August 21st, 2009 | By Paul Burkhardt
Location: United States, Texas
Industry type: Oil Refineries

Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) — Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s plant in Corpus Christi, Texas, had a “significant” release of a potentially lethal chemical from an alkylation unit July 19, seriously injuring a worker, a federal agency said.

Nearly 4,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride was discharged during the July 19 incident after a fire broke out in the unit, according to a Citgo filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“This is the first significant HF release that the CSB has investigated,” Robert Hall, a lead investigator for the 11- year-old Chemical Safety Board, said today in a phone interview from the accident site. The CSB investigates about 10 to 15 chemical accidents annually.

Hydrogen fluoride is “toxic to humans, flora, and fauna in certain doses and can be lethal as demonstrated by documented workplace accidents,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Citgo reported 3,437 pounds of hydrogen fluoride released from a source of “alkylation unit fugitives” and 560 pounds from a flare stack, according to the filing. The company said it expects to provide an update on the estimated emissions.

“There are three separate investigations about this incident currently ongoing,” said a Citgo spokesman, who declined to be identified. “Once that they are completed and their results analyzed, Citgo will provide further details.”

Federal Investigations

The chemical board, EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the Citgo plant incident.

The board plans to determine the amount of hydrogen fluoride and other emissions “actually captured by the water curtain and what was released to the environment,” Hall said.

The investigation team is scheduled to collect evidence at the site this week, he said. Mitigation systems including water curtains are safety measures used to control the accidental release of hydrogen fluoride.

An alkylation unit produces a high-octane additive that is blended with motor and aviation fuel.

The refinery can process 165,000 barrels of oil a day, and produce 24,000 barrels of alkylate a day, according to the U.S. Energy Department.