Fluoride Action Network

Torrance: Department of Justice sues ExxonMobil for 2015 refinery explosion records

Source: The Daily Breeze | September 6th, 2017 | By Nick Green
Industry type: Oil Refineries


The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit seeking answers to many of the same questions residents have long asked about serious safety issues at the Torrance refinery in the wake of a February 2015 explosion.

The 34-page legal brief, filed in U.S. District Court last week against former refinery owner ExxonMobil, provides new details on a March 2015 fire and September 2015 hydrofluoric acid leak that occurred in the wake of the blast.

Moreover, the petition suggests the investigative direction authorities are taking in their probe to uncover possible safety, operational, maintenance and financial issues that may have contributed to the near catastrophic disaster.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which issued its final report on the blast last week despite the many unanswered questions, has said the 1.7-magnitude explosion almost caused a catastrophic release of highly toxic hydrofluoric acid that could have killed or injured thousands in the nearby densely populated residential neighborhoods.

The board said the blast was preventable and blamed ExxonMobil for gaps and weaknesses in its management that left workers running the refinery “blind” on the day of the blast.

The force of the explosion catapulted a 40-ton piece of a pollution-control device called an electrostatic precipitator, where the blast occurred, 100 feet into the adjacent alkylation unit, according to the Department of Justice lawsuit. It landed within 5 feet of a tank containing thousands of gallons of the dangerous acid that can form a toxic, ground-hugging cloud when exposed to air.

Workers cause fire

Several weeks later, as crews worked to remove debris caused when the electrostatic precipitator was literally blown apart, sparks from the work ignited a flammable fluid, leading to a fire that burned for several hours.

The fire’s cause had not previously been disclosed to the public.