Emergency Preparedness for an Accidental MHF Release
During the largest HF release in US history in 1987, Texas City officials botched the emergency response. For one thing, they evacuated people to a community center in the direct path of the plume 1.7 miles downwind, and had to evacuate them again as the acid cloud approached.
They’d never planned or conducted emergency drills for an HF release. They were caught with their pants down. But the city had a great excuse! It’s the refinery’s fault, they cried. Marathon didn’t tell us an HF release could be bad!!! Fires and explosions, that’s all we know! Marathon, unimpressed, reported smugly no one had died.i Texas City's emergency management coordinator sniffed, “This is not a resort town. This is industry.'’
Is this what the South Bay wants to emulate? If a significant MHF accident were to occur here the City of Torrance would cry, “The refinery didn’t tell us MHF is dangerous! We swallowed their argument that MHF safety falls the ground upon release. So we are blameless for our incompetence and lack of preparation!” Surrounding cities could blame Torrance’s incompetence for their own lack of action. People in the densely populated South Bay and Harbor areas need to learn from this example, because Texas City’s clown act hits uncomfortably close to home.
The impact of such incompetent would be much greater here. Our huge population can’t scurry from place to place as the HF cloud advances, like in relatively rural TX City. Torrance officials’ company town mentality has created a very dangerous situation. HF clouds don’t respect city boundaries. We appeal to residents of Hermosa, Redondo, Manhattan, all surrounding cities: ask your CC and Mayor to start now by approving a resolution supporting the elimination of MHF and its replacement with a safe alternative (3 are available) within four years.
At the Marathon Texas City refinery in 1987, falling equipment released 10,000’s lb. of HF and simultaneously destroyed the HF emergency water system and a warning siren.ii 5800 people on 85 city blocks were evacuatediii and 1,037 treated at hospital.iv The accident “resulted in a large hydrogen fluoride cloud blanketing a small area of the town,”v that was “reported to be two to three miles long and 0.5 to 1 mile wide”vi and rose to knee high in residential areas.vii The gas “defoliated trees in its path”viii and exceeded concentrations that can be lethal (50 ppm) up to 3/4 mile from the source.ix,x Reports are that the concentration in residential neighborhoods was, fortuitously, generally lower, because the HF plume shot 200’ into the air, becoming dispersed and less dense by the time it settled to ground level.xi
An epidemiological study concluded, “The hydrofluoric acid exposure indeed caused health problems in the community that continued for at least 2 years after the accident.”xii Attempts were made by citizens and the Executive Director of the Galveston County Health Districtxiii to get Marathon to fund a long-term health study. Local health officials said that, in the absence of published scientific studies of exposure to similar leaks, a study of local residents was needed, especially concerning effects on children. But no study was funded. Please read TRAA’s report on emergency preparedness to learn more about what we must do to increase our chances of surviving a MHF release.xiv Residents of every city surrounding both MHF units should take their concerns to their city government and fire departments and demand action.
Interesting reference: American Bhopals: The threat of catastrophic refinery accidents to HF alkylation units,” N. Livingtone, http://bit.ly/2s2GSJ1
Data from the EPA Accidental Release Program database. News reports generally are lower because they got their information soon after the incident. SOURCE: 2010-03 “Hydrogen Fluoride, Hydrofluoric Acid, and Fluorine,” Aristatek Newsletter, [Transport, releases, Marathon] <http://www.aristatek.com/Newsletter/MAR10/MAR10ts.pdf>
A community-based epidemiologic study of health sequelae of exposure to hydrofluoric acid, Dayal HH, Brodwick M, Morris R, Baranowski T, Trieff N, Harrison JA, Lisse JR, Ansari GA, Annals of Epidemioly. 1992 May;2(3):213-30. [Marathon HF Release] <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1342272>