Fluoride Action Network

Hydrofluoric acid use in oil refineries: Investigative report by The Center for Public Integrity

Source: The Center for Public Integrity | February 24th, 2011 | By Jim Morris and Chris Hamby
Industry type: Oil Refineries

Title of Report: Use of Toxic Acid Puts Millions at Risk

This in-depth report on the use of hydrofluoric acid (HF) in 50 of the nation’s 148 refineries has an interactive map of communities at risk. HF is used as a catalyst to make high-octane gasoline.


“Over the past five years, authorities have cited 32 of the 50 refineries using HF for willful, serious or repeat violations of rules designed to prevent fires, explosions and chemical releases, according to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration data analyzed by the Center.”

How We Did This Story

A worst-case scenario for each refinery is filed by its owner with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, companies include what’s known as an “Offsite Consequences Analysis,” part of a larger plan that details how they manage myriad risks involved in manufacturing usable fuel from crude oil.

The EPA keeps close tabs on the documents and who views them because of the vulnerabilities of refineries, chemical plants and other facilities to accidents or acts of terrorism, and the potential for harm to millions of people living nearby. Particularly since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the government has spread a veil over such sensitive information – a veil that makes it difficult for members of the public to learn about risks in their midst.

A citizen can view Offsite Consequences Analyses only by visiting an EPA “reading room.” They cannot be photocopied. They cannot be obtained on the Internet or from libraries.

After identifying 50 refineries that use hydrofluoric acid, five reporters from the Center for Public Integrity visited EPA headquarters in October 2010, scrutinized the relevant reports, and recorded the information in a spreadsheet. The reporters then contacted each company, giving it an extended opportunity to dispute or urge corrections to the reports. None of those who responded challenged the data.

On several occasions while filming outside refineries, journalists with the Center and ABC News were confronted and questioned by law enforcement authorities or refinery security personnel.