The SCAQMD Debating Continued Use of Lethal Chemical, MHF, at Refineries

Today we visited a South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) board meeting as they deliberated restrictions on the chemical, Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF) which is kept in pressurized containers on the refinery.

Although, HF is used in the refining process, it is incredibly dangerous. Environmental justice advocates have been pushing for greater restrictions on the use of the chemical.

"Mitigation systems cannot eliminate the possibility of a catastrophic accident," said one environmental advocate.

The “modified” HF makes the chemical less likely to disperse widely.

SCAQMD is considering new restrictions on its use at refineries in Torrance and Wilmington.

The slides below are from a SCAQMD staff presentation. They illustrate the potential danger based off a test in 1986, which showed a hole the size of a golf ball released enough acid in two minutes to be lethal beyond two miles from the release point.

The issue was put back into the spotlight after a near miss in 2015. Advocates for phasing out MHF say a disaster, such as an earthquake, could lead to a release of the acid...which vaporizes and hugs the ground. For their part, the refinery operators say there hasn’t been a release of MHF during their operations. They also cite the cost, which SCAQMD concurs, of almost a billion dollars to install a safer system. They say it could cause gas prices to increase.

Also officials from both Torrance & Wilmington refineries say that the threat has been marked by misinformation and scary imagery. They added that MHF can be successfully mitigated if there’s a release. People can expect broader economic effects if they are forced to stop using MHF, they said.

The refineries want an agreement which allows for the building of mitigation devices designed for containment. Environmental and neighborhood activists want an MHF ban.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board now has 90 days to decide whether to ban MHF.

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