In this Feb. 17 photo, nearly 300 Torrance residents march in support of a ban on a toxic chemical used at the Torrance refinery. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributor)

In this Feb. 17 photo, nearly 300 Torrance residents march in support of a ban on a toxic chemical used at the Torrance refinery. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributor)

When the Torrance refinery exploded in February 2015, showering residential neighborhoods with industrial ash, the event ignited a three-year public debate over hydrofluoric acid that continues to this day.

Here are the major developments we’ve seen since then:

Feb. 18, 2015 –The blast at the refinery, then owned by ExxonMobil, injures four workers, starts a fire that sent flames and ash into the sky and prompts more than a dozen nearby schools to initiate shelter in place protocols for students.The force of the blast catapults a 40-ton chunk of debris toward massive tanks containing hydrofluoric acid that was only prevented from hitting and possibly puncturing them by scaffolding erected around them for maintenance work. The crippled refinery shuts down for months, sending local gas prices soaring.

Aug. 2015 — State fines ExxonMobil $566,600 for 19 workplace heath and safety violations, with all but one classified as serious because they could lead to worker death, in the wake of the explosion. Investigators concluded the company failed to take action to fix known hazardous conditions at the refinery and intentionally failed to comply with state safety standards.

Sept. 2015 — PBF Energy acquires the Torrance refinery from ExxonMobil and publicly pledges to operate it “safely and reliably.” But a series of leaks, fires and unplanned flaring from equipment failures and power outages in the following months erodes public confidence in the company.

Feb. 2017 — Manhattan Beach law firm files class action lawsuit against Torrance refinery alleging the refinery and its use of hydrofluoric acid represents “an ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous activity” that poses a serious risk of harm in a densely populated area “regardless of the amount of care exercised.” The lawsuit is still pending.

May, 2017 — Department of Justice sues ExxonMobil to force the company to comply with a half dozen subpoenas issued the previous fall in an effort to uncover more information about the explosion. Federal officials conceded they don’t have access to potentially crucial basic safety information, such as the amount of additive contained in the modified hydrofluoric acid used at the refineries, that allows them to accurately assess the risk to the community of a major release of the chemical. The suit is still pending.

Sept. 2015 — More than five pounds of modified hydrofluoric acid is released as a white vapor cloud over two hours after a clamp patching an aging pipe fails.

Jan. 2017 — The South Coast Air Quality Management District proposes ban on the use of hydrofluoric acid at two refineries in Torrance and Wilmington, the only ones in the state to use the chemical. The county board of supervisors and several South Bay cities endorse the proposal.

Sept. 2017 — Federal Environmental Protection Agency releases report uncovering safety and operational deficiencies at the refinery including broken equipment designed to help contain any accidental release of toxic hydrofluoric acid that remained unfixed for “weeks.” The probe also found the plant’s risk management plan understated the danger to the community from a fire or chemical release because of errors or inaccuracies.

April 2018 — AQMD releases report proposing to ban the use of HF in the two refineries in as little as five years.

*Original article online at


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