CORPUS CHRISTI – The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has handed down more than 303-thousand dollars against Citgo Refining in Nueces County for a fire in July of 2009. The TCEQ investigation found Citgo improperly handled the release of chemicals that sparked a flash fire that injured one worker. The company was also cited for not being able to keep the water that was used to fight the fire from running off into the ship channel. Furthermore, Citgo was fined for not providing a final report on the incident to TCEQ. Citgo has already taken action to correct all of the problems cited in the report.
Half of the penalty assessed will go towards a state program to clean up illegally dumped tires.
The TCEQ violations are: failure to meet permitted effluent limit for fluoride, failure to prevent the unauthorized discharge of wastewater, failure to obtain authorization from TCEQ before beginning an activity that resulted in non-compliance with Citgo’s wastewater permit, and failure to prevent the unauthorized discharge of process wastewater. Those violations are related to the use of water to fight a fire on July 19, 2009 that severely burned one worker. For that same incident, TCEQ cited Citgo for failing to prevent unauthorized air emissions and failing to provide a final report on the same incident.
In December of 2009, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a report on the July 19, 2009 incident that stated part of the refinery was an “imminent hazard that has the potential to cause serious harm.”
The report states that there was a blockage in a a hydrogen flouride unit that caused a valve to break and release hydroflouric acid. A total of 21 tons of hydroflouric acid vapor escaped, the sprinklers took care of all but 2 tons of the vapor. Video of the incident shows a large vapor cloud that ignited, producing a large fireball that injured 34-year-old Gabriel Alvarado. He was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio with severe burns over 70 percent of hhis body. Alvarado also lost 60 percent of his lung capacity.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board reports also states that Citgo used up almost all of its water supply fighting the fire, and the Refinery terminal Fire Company had to pump in water from the ship channel to continue the fight.