Supervisor Janice Hahn and Rolling Hills Estates City Councilwoman Judy Mitchell cast the dissenting votes against allowing use of HMF to continue. Refinery officials applauded the decision. Anti-MHF activists vowed to fight on.
Improved safety systems at two South Bay refineries are preferable to a phase-out and eventual ban of modified hydrofluoric acid, a subcommittee of the region’s air pollution watchdog has recommended.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District voted 3-2 over the weekend to recommend to the agency’s governing board they should support the option of signing a memorandum of understanding with each refinery in Torrance and Wilmington that will pave the way for more mitigation systems to reduce the risk of an accidental release of the toxic chemical.
A vote on the issue by the full AQMD governing board could come later this year.
That mirrors what the committee said in April 2018 when it rejected a ban of the chemical because of a lack of current alternatives to MHF.
“Everything we do in life has risks and what we try to do is manage that risk the best we can through training, through technology improvements,” committee chairman Larry McCallon, who is also mayor of the San Bernardino County community of Highland, said before the vote at the end of the all-day meeting.
South Bay Supervisor Janice Hahn and Rolling Hills Estates City Councilwoman Judy Mitchell, who both favor a ban, cast the dissenting votes.
Hahn said Monday she was disappointed in her fellow panelists, observing that the action was less stringent than the measures recommended by the agency’s staff, noting that a fallback option of a ban on MHF if the performance standards were not met was removed from the motion.
“An MOU is just an attempt to put systems in place to reduce risk, but my real worry is a catastrophic event that causes a major release of modified hydrofluoric acid when the systems we put in place fail,” she said. “The only way to eliminate the risk completely is to ban this dangerous chemical.”
Representatives with PBF Energy, which owns the Torrance refinery, applauded the committee’s decision.
“We are confident in our existing robust, redundant and layered safety systems,” said a statement via email from company spokeswoman Betsy Brien. “Our proposed enhanced safety systems would augment multiple aspects of our existing systems, adding new barriers, water mitigation technologies and detection equipment.”
The current debate over MHF endures in the wake of a February 2015 explosion at the Torrance Refinery. Fueling the debate was the conclusion reached by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that the blast almost ruptured a massive tank containing thousands of pounds of the chemical, which could have caused widespread injuries and deaths, the agency said.
McCallon said Saturday the performance standard surrounding an MHF release would be based on the scenario of a one-inch tank rupture saying that he had seen “nothing that would justify using a two-inch hole size” let alone anything larger.
Local activists, including about 70 residents who traveled to the meeting on two buses provided by Hahn’s office, vowed to fight on.
“We’re not giving up, it’s too dangerous, our families are at risk,” said Torrance resident Sally Hayati, who heads a group called Ban Toxic MHF and was formerly president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, which spear-headed the drive for an MHF ban.
“They’re trying to convince us the safety systems are infallible,” she added. “Saturday’s meeting was a shameful act of willful ignorance.”