FBI investigating hazardous fallout from Bay Area refinery

From the Los Angeles Times on May 26th.

The FBI and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have opened a joint investigation into the release of hazardous materials from a Bay Area oil refinery — an incident that has sparked heated criticism of the facility’s owner as well as local government officials.

Martinez Refining, located on an 880-acre industrial complex on the northern edge of the city, emitted as much as 24 tons of so-called spent catalyst, a mix of chemicals used to break down crude oil into finished petroleum products like gasoline, according to the local air district.

The fallout left cars, homes and at least one school blanketed in a white powdery substance. Tests determined that the residue contained metals such as aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium and zinc.

PBF Energy, the parent company of Martinez Refining, also owns the Torrance Refinery, which has had its share of problems also. In the explosion of 2015, we also were covered in a white powdery substance, which they guaranteed posed no risk. Should we be concerned?

PBF Spends Millions to Upgrade LA Plant, But Not for HF

According to the Oil & Gas Journal, PBF (owner of Torrance Refinery and another HF unit near New Orleans) is collaborating with Honeywell Spending $650 million plus updating a refinery in Louisiana that also has an alkylation unit using HF. 

It looks like they don’t have any problem spending money (twice the estimated costs of converting an alkylation unit from HF) and looks like they have no problem using technologies by Honeywell UPO (The manufacturer of the leading alternative to HF). 

So the arguments that there are no alternatives or that they are “prohibitively expensive” Seem not to hold water. 

County Reports on HF Initiative

In December of 2022, Los Angeles County completed a report to the Board of Supervisors about the conversion from HF at our local refineries. We just received the report and want to share it.

It’s a great “report” that confirms much of what TRAA has been suggesting about the danger posed by an accidental release of a significant quantity of MHF, the fact that there have been a large number of releases in the very recent past (20 cited in the report), and the reality that any of these 20 could have resulted in a catastrophic release.

However, it repeats a completely discredited estimate of costs in the billions of dollars (they say that the cost would be greater than the net worth of the facilities themselves. See bottom of Attachment III). SCAQMD, US EPA and TRAA has assembled plenty of data showing that the cost of conversion is well within normal investment range for companies making between $3 and $11 billion annually. Valero themselves have built from the ground up an alkylation unit using an alternative for around $400 million. Conversion would likely be significantly lower according to the vendors of those technologies.

Here is the report:

Farewell Sophie Dreifuss

We are sorry to report that Sophie, Dr Genghum Eng’s wife and active fighter against HF passed away last month. We’ve lost a member of the TRAA family

She came to many meetings and events, really understood the issue, was always ready to help, was obviously a big support to Eng in their numerous efforts to save the environment and community health.

Sophie was clearly very smart and had a great smile. She will is greatly missed among those who seek to make the world better.

Together they made many contributions to the campaign to get rid of MHF/HF.

Here is her obituary from the Daily Breeze:

U.S. EPA orders Valero to improve chemical safety at California refinery

FILE PHOTO: A Valero Energy Corp. gas station is pictured in El Cajon, California, U.S., August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

According to Reuters (Link to article):

Crude oil refiner Valero Energy Corp (VLO.N) agreed to pay a $1.2 million fine over violations of chemical safety regulations at a California refinery, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday.

The company will also make changes to improve process safety at the refinery, the EPA said in a statement.

After chemical incidents at the Benicia Refinery in 2017 and 2019, a 2019 EPA inspection at the facility identified several areas of noncompliance, including that Valero failed to immediately report releases of hazardous substances and update certain process safety information, the EPA said.

If Valero violated this many safety regulations at Benicia, is there any reason to think it is better in Wilmington? Especially with the huge quantity of the deadly HF stored there?

Perhaps we should encourage the EPA to look closely at our local Valero Refinery.

City of Torrance Local Hazards Plan

The City of Torrance is updating their Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) , and is asking for input. They are providing a survey to understand our concerns and preparedness. This is an opportunity to let the city, and the new Emergency Services Coordinator, know of our concerns about HF and the refinery.

TRAA’s view (www.TRAA.website)  is that the refinery, the workers at the refinery, and the City are doing or will do everything they can to make the use of HF/MHF safe. However, we know HF is an exceptionally dangerous chemical in that it can cause Mass casualties and refineries are vulnerable to accidents, natural disasters, intentional acts of Terror (According to the AQMD 2019 Senior Staff report). So the only fully safe thing to prevent a catastrophic release is for the refinery to convert from HF/MHF to one of the multiple vastly safer alternatives.

Many South Bay cities, the County Board of Supervisors, County Health Dept., state officials and numerous Senators and Representatives have written letters to support the conversion from HF.

We urge all to follow the link below to take the survey and speak facts to wishful thinking.

From the City’s website:

The City of Torrance Office of Emergency Services is preparing an update to the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP). The updated City of Torrance LHMP will replace the 2017-2022 LHMP by assessing and identifying both natural and human-caused hazards local to Torrance that may impact the City. The 2023 LHMP will summarize vulnerabilities of the community and assess ways in which the City can reduce the impacts of these threats through long-term, hazard mitigation projects.

This plan will help create a safer and prepared community for residents, businesses, and visitors to the City of Torrance. The LHMP allows public safety personnel, city staff, elected officials, and members of the public to understand the threats from natural and human-caused hazards in our community.

The LHMP is updated every five years (reviewed annually) to ensure we have the most recent community information, hazard data, and new mitigation project ideas.

How Can I Get Involved?

  • Anyone who lives or works in Torrance, or is interested in the future of the community, is invited to participate in the plan update. Those interested may attend Local Public Emergency Committee meetings, completion of the LHMP survey, and review the plan to offer comments.
  • Take our Online LHMP Survey(ends April 20, 2023), which asks for information about past experiences with natural hazards and how our LHMP can be most useful. Your responses will ensure that you and the rest of our community can get the help and resources that are needed during unforeseen events.

Take our survey NOW, let your voice be heard! Encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same.

Please alert President Biden to the HF hazard in his neighborhood!

As we noted in out presentations commemorating the explosion at Torrance Refinery, President Biden’s home office is approximately 11 miles away from the Trainer Refinery, which stores over 200,000 lbs. of HF on its premises. That is well within the refinery’s “Circle of Risk”. Here is a Map showing the distance,

So we ask everyone to write to the President to warn him and ask that he encourage the EPA to protect us all. You may download, modify and then print and mail or email it to President Biden at this web page: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Train Derailments, tanker truck shows hazards of Toxic Chemical Movement

Recent hazardous spills show the dangers of transporting materials such as HF. The toxic, fiery train derailment in Ohio has kept people from their homes since February 3. And, a highway accident near Tucson caused residents to evacuate a half-mile area. A 3-mile shelter-in-place order was imposed, lifted, then reinstated hours later. Since then, another train has derailed in Ohio (no hazardous materials luckily).

The chemicals involved in these instances were nowhere near as threatening as HF. In the East Palestine derailment the toxic cargo included hundreds of thousands of pounds of vinyl chloride, a common organic chemical used in the production of plastics that has been linked to several types of cancer

The EPA classifies vinyl chloride as a carcinogen; routine exposure could increase one’s risk of liver damage or liver cancer. Short-term exposure to high concentrations can cause drowsiness, loss of coordination, disorientation, nausea, headache or burning or tingling, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet numerous fish and animals have died in the area, and residents question the safety of their streams and wells

In Tucson a commercial tanker truck carrying nitric acid hit the highway median and rolled over on I-10 southeast of downtown Tucson on Tuesday afternoon, killing the driver and spilling the acid on the highway, according to KOLD News 13. Nitric acid is a colorless liquid, has yellow or red fumes and acrid odor, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure to it can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes.l

HF is shipped to the local refineries by tanker truck from Louisiana, so the hazards are equivalent, but the potential danger is much worse. HF can kill within a few minutes, unlike the others, so the danger is immediate! What could go wrong?