The fire at the Marathon-Ashland oil refinery in St. Paul Park Tuesday led to another accident Sunday.
Several electricians hired to repair the damage inhaled hazardous fumes.
The electricians were working in an area of the refinery that boosts octane levels in gasoline, when the spill occurred.
Marathon Ashland oil spokesman Bob Behr said, “They were working on a pump, and some fluid came out of the pump, some hydrocarbons. It was about one cup worth. And it had a trace of a chemical in it, too, that vaporized.”
That chemical was hydrogen fluoride, or hydrofluoric acid. St. Paul acting 2nd district fire chief Mark Mueller said, “Hydrofluoric acid is extremely toxic, both for inhalation and topically, it can burn through your skin.”
Even though the electricians were wearing protective gear, it didn’t stop the fumes from reaching their faces.
Dr. Robert Knopp helped treat them. He said, “It was just the facial area that was exposed in a few of them. They had shields, but some even got behind the shields or they had their shields up.”
The refinery has several emergency showers and eyewash sites. But they weren’t used because the worst exposure was to their lungs.
Paramedics gave the 13 men medicine to help them breathe.
Dr. Knopp said, “Several of them came in coughing, having some degree of distress.”
Once at Regions’ trauma center, the electricians became the first to ever use Region’s new decontamination unit, which the hospital installed after 9-11.
Knopp said “We were able to get them over to our decontamination unit, get them completely showered and washed, to get off any of the remaining residue from the hydrofluoric acid.”
Nurses then bagged up all their protective gear. Ten of the 13 men exposed worked for Parsons Electric. The other three electricians taken to the hospital were from Bolt Electric in Fridley.
Parsons electric safety director Bill Olson said, “Everyone’s doing well, and we’re real optimistic.”
Only two electricians were kept for observation. The rest were sent home.
Mueller said, “I would say they’re very lucky.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
March 3, 2003
Refinery employees treated for exposure to hydrofluoric acid
by Tim Harlow
Fourteen employees from the Marathon Ashland Oil Refinery in St. Paul Park were treated Sunday at Regions Hospital for exposure to a low concentrate of hydrofluoric acid.
None of the injuries were life threatening. By Sunday evening, most of the victims had been released from the St. Paul hospital, but two still were being examined, said Marathon Ashland spokesman Chuck Rice.
Dr. David Ahrenholz, the assistant director of Region’s burn center who treated the victims, said an eyewitness told him that employees were exposed to the hazardous acid after a manifold in one of the plant’s gasoline processing units broke loose at 8:38 a.m., sending a cloud of gas and vapor into the air.
The incident happened as repair work was being done in an area of the plant where a refinery pipeline ruptured and ignited a fire Tuesday.
Other plant operations were unaffected, and the refinery remained open Sunday.
The employees’ injuries consisted mainly of respiratory problems and minor burns. They were not more serious because the workers were exposed to a low concentrate of the acid for only a few minutes and were wearing protective clothing, Ahrenholz said.
More intense exposures to hydrofluoric acid can result in eye damage or blindness, destroy soft tissue, decalcify bones and cause death, he said.