TRAA Kicks-off Campaign Urging Gov. Newsom to Initiate Investigation of HF Usage

Last February 15, 2020, the TRAA hosted a press conference and Call to Action at the Doubletree Hotel in Torrance.  In addition to commemorating the 5th anniversary of the explosion at the Torrance Refinery, the group announced an initiative to urge California Governor Newsom to request that Atty Gen. Xavier Becerra’s office open an investigation to determine how the Torrance and Wilmington refineries are able to legally store vast quantities of dangerous hydrofluoric acid in a densely populated area.

An LA Times article on this topic is included below, and can be found by clicking here.

Activists marking Torrance refinery explosion anniversary call for investigation

 

Explosion at Exxon Mobil Torrance refinery

Activists held an event Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the explosion at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance that injured four workers.  (KTLA-TV)

ALEX WIGGLESWORTH |FEB. 15, 2020

A group of activists on Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of an explosion at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance that injured four workers and prompted continuing concerns about the potential for an even more catastrophic incident and the release of toxic chemicals and fumes into local communities.

The explosion on Feb. 18, 2015, was described by federal regulators as “a serious near miss.”

The investigation of the Torrance explosion by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board revealed that a piece of equipment nearly crashed into a tank holding tens of thousands of pounds of modified hydrofluoric acid — a highly toxic chemical used to make high-octane gasoline.

When released, the chemical can form a deadly, ground-hugging cloud that, in the event of a major leak, could have caused “serious injury or death to many community members,” according to the agency.

On Saturday, the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance announced a campaign urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to call for an investigation into the use of modified hydrofluoric acid at the facility, now operated by Torrance Refining Co., as well as by Valero’s Wilmington refinery. The refineries are the only two in the state that use the substance.
The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance plans on Tuesday to deliver a letter from its science advisory panel to Newsom’s office urging him to request that Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s office investigate how the Torrance and Wilmington refineries are able to legally operate using hydrofluoric acid.

The new campaign comes several months after air quality regulators killed a years-long push for stronger regulation of hydrofluoric acid at the two refineries.

In September, the South Coast Air Quality Management District governing board voted instead to accept a voluntary oil industry pledge to enhance safety measures. The decision by the board came one week after the two refineries sent letters offering to install improved safety systems in the coming years if regulators ended their pursuit of new rules for the chemical.

Times staff writer Tony Barboza contributed to this report.

Press Conference on 5th Anniversary of Torrance Refinery Explosion

video

TRAA activists hosted a press conference on Saturday, February 15, 2020 to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Torrance Refinery explosion. It was a terrific day for TRAA and the campaign to Ban HF.

Some of the notables about the morning:

  • Approximately 100 people filled the room
  • Many signed up for areas to help or donated to the effort
  • We had press coverage from channel 2 (CBS), channel 7 (ABC), Univision, at least one college newspaper, an article in the Daily Breeze
  • Terrific speakers (including representatives of Janice Hahn and Maxine Waters and for community partners (Coalition for Clean Air, Sierra Club, FLARE, and Indivisible.)
  • A well organized flow created by Jim and Jane that included the wonderful videos and the terrific message from Daniel Horowitz
  • Terrific exhibits by Donna on the history of the battle against HF, and the map by Mara with the great idea of pins where people liv

There was great energy provided by all the people who attended. We have segmented the video of the event into short, watchable segments and have provided previews below:

Press Conference Introduction–Steve Goldsmith

Press Conference Campaign to Initiate State Investigation–Jane Affonso and Jim Eninger, PhD

Press Conference Video Presentation by Dr. Daniel Horowitz, Former Managing Director, U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Press Conference Comments by Community Leaders

Press Conference Public Comments and Closing Remarks

15 State AG’s Sues Trump Admin EPA for Gutting Chemical Safeguards

The coalition is challenging the Trump EPA’s rollback of Obama-era amendments to its “Risk Management Program” (RMP) regulations, referred to as the Chemical Disaster Rule. This rule made critical improvements to the RMP to better safeguard against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at facilities that store and use toxic chemicals.

Attorney General James Sues Trump Admin For Gutting Safety Protections For Chemical Accidents

EPA’s Rollback of the Chemical Disaster Rule Eliminates Key Safety Measures
for Those Exposed to Explosions, Fires, Poisonous Gas Releases

9 Million New Yorkers Could be Affected

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 15 state attorneys general and the City of Philadelphia, today sued the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for gutting safeguards for those exposed to dangerous chemical accidents. Specifically, the coalition is challenging the Trump EPA’s rollback of Obama-era amendments to its “Risk Management Program” (RMP) regulations, referred to as the Chemical Disaster Rule. This rule made critical improvements to the RMP to better safeguard against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at facilities that store and use toxic chemicals.

“More than nine million New Yorkers live, work, and play in the shadow of facilities that store and use toxic chemicals,” said Attorney General James. “The Trump EPA is gutting critical safeguards against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at these facilities, putting New Yorkers in harm’s way. I am taking this fight to the courts, because every New Yorker deserves to live in a safe and healthy environment.”

The Trump Administration’s EPA finalized a rule that rolls back critical elements of the Chemical Disaster Rule in December 2019, which eliminated safeguards in accident prevention programs designed to protect communities and prevent future accidents. These changes included the elimination of independent audits conducted by third-parties and “root cause” analyses following accidents, as well as analyses of safer technology and alternatives that could prevent or lessen harms from accidents. The EPA also cut back on training requirements and requiring facilities to share information with first responders and nearby communities on hazardous chemicals used on site.

In August 2018, a coalition of 12 attorneys general — led by the New York Attorney General’s Office — submitted extensive comments on the EPA’s proposed rollback of the Chemical Disaster Rule, arguing that the proposal, if adopted, would be “arbitrary and capricious” and “inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.” The coalition urged the EPA to heed the warning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the agency’s single-minded focus on industry costs of complying with the rule made a “mockery” out of the Clean Air Act.

Toxic chemical plants continue to have a potential for accidents that pose a serious danger to the public. In fact, since the attorneys general submitted supplemental comments on the proposed rule last summer, accidents at facilities regulated under the RMP have occurred across the country, causing deaths, injuries, and evacuations. For example, in November 2019, the massive explosions at the TPC Group chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas released toxic plumes of butadiene and other carcinogens into the air, injured at least eight people, and required the evacuation of over 60,000 residents from the surrounding communities.

According to publicly available data, 169 facilities covered by RMP regulations are located in New York, including Amrex Chemical (Binghamton), Arch Chemicals (Rochester), Durez Corp. (Niagara Falls), FMC Industrial Chemicals (Tonawanda), MPM Silicones (Waterford), International Paper (Ticonderoga), JCI Jones Chemicals (Warwick), Momentive Specialty Chemicals (South Glens Falls), PVS Chemical Solutions (Buffalo), Surpass Chemical (Albany), and Twin Lakes Chemical (Lockport).

The available data shows that more than 9.1 million people live within the “vulnerability zone” of RMP facilities in New York; vulnerability zones are the maximum possible area where a worst-case release of chemicals could harm people. A 2014 report by the Center for Effective Government (CEG) entitled “Kids in Danger Zones” found that New York had the fifth largest number of schools (2,210) and number of students (1,027,864 – 33 percent of all students) located in vulnerability zones.

The coalition’s petition for review was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Joining Attorney General James in the suit are the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the City of Philadelphia.
This matter is being handled by Attorney General James’ Environmental Protection Bureau by Special Assistant Attorney General Sarah K. Kam, Environmental Scientist John D. Davis, and Senior Counsel for Air Pollution and Climate Change Litigation Michael J. Myers — all of the Environmental Protection Bureau — under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Michael Colangelo. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

###

Congressman Alan Lowenthal Expresses Support to Proposed Rule 1410

Last November, Congressman Alan Lowenthal joined fellow local congressmembers Ted Lieu, Maxine Waters, and Nanette Barragán in expressing support to the Southern California AQMD Proposed Rule 1410 to replace HF and MHF at the refineries within the SCAQMD jurisdiction.

Congressman Lowenthal represents the 47th congressional district, which includes Long Beach, but extends eastward to include parts of Orange County.

Lowenthal 1410 Letter (1)

To download this file, click here.

To see other letters of support from your representatives, click here.

CSB Releases Update to Philadelphia Refinery Explosion

The United States Chemical Safety Board has released an update to the ongoing investigation into the June 21, 2019 explosion at the Philadelphia Refinery. In it, the CSB reports that 5,239 pounds of HF were released into the atmosphere, and that only a fraction was contained by the water curtain system designed to contain the release.

To see the full update, please click here.

Significant points in the update include:

  • A flammable process fluid containing HF was released and formed a ground-hugging cloud (see figure at right)
  • Estimates are that 5,239 pounds of HF was released during the incident.  Only 1,968 pounds were contained by the water curtain, leaving 3,271 pounds released to the atmosphere.

EPA Announces Settlement with Torrance Refinery on Safety and Risk Management Violations

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has announced a settlement agreement with the Torrance Refinery regarding violations in handling of Hydrofluoric Acid.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has announced a settlement agreement with the Torrance Refinery regarding violations in handling of Hydrofluoric Acid.

U.S. EPA settlement with Southern California refinery improves chemical safety at Torrance facility

01/13/2020

Contact Information: 

Margot Perez-Sullivan (perezsullivan.margot@epa.gov)

415-947-4149

TORRANCE, Calif. – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement agreement with the Torrance Refining Company, LLC over chemical safety and risk management violations. The refinery has corrected the violations, will pay $125,000 in penalties and will spend $219,000 to enhance chemical safety features at the refinery.

“It is critical for the refinery to maintain an up-to-date and accurate Risk Management Plan,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker.  “These actions ensure that facilities handling dangerous materials are minimizing potential impacts to the environment and the surrounding community.”

An EPA inspection found that Torrance Refining violated the Clean Air Act’s Chemical Accident Prevention Program because of inaccuracies in their Risk Management Plan, including:

  • Failure to properly conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Failure to properly document repairs on equipment.
  • Failure to follow emergency operating procedures.

As part of the settlement, the Torrance Refinery has agreed to install a new automated water system to mitigate potential releases at its largest modified hydrofluoric acid tank.

The Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program requires facilities with significant quantities of toxic substances to develop and implement a Chemical Accident Prevention or Risk Management Program. When properly implemented, risk management plans help prevent chemical releases and minimize their potential impacts at facilities that store large amounts of hazardous substances and flammable chemicals. Facilities are required to update and resubmit their risk management plans at least once every five years. The plans are used by EPA to assess chemical risks to surrounding communities and to prepare for emergency responses.

For more information on the Risk Management Plan requirements under the Clean Air Act, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/rmp.

Learn more about EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region. Connect with us on Facebook and on Twitter.

###

Appeals Court Rules that Exxon Mobil Must Produce Documents on 2015 Explosion

Statement from Chemical Safety Board’s Interim Executive Authority Dr. Kristen Kulinowski

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that Exxon Mobil Oil Corp. must produce information to the CSB related to a tank filled with hydrofluoric acid at the site of a 2015 oil refinery explosion in Torrance, California.

On Feb. 18, 2015, an explosion in the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit shook the surrounding area with the force of a 1.7 magnitude earthquake and propelled a 40-ton piece of debris about 100 feet where it landed within five feet of a tank containing thousands of gallons of modified hydrofluoric acid.  Hydrofluoric acid is a highly corrosive liquid that dissolves glass. Breathing it can cause lung damage and skin contact can cause severe burns and death.  The CSB issued subpoenas for information regarding the contents of the tank, siting hazards, and related safety concerns.  Exxon refused to provide this information, and a lower Court had ruled that the information was not sufficiently relevant to the CSB’s investigation.

The Appeals Court agreed with the Board’s position that the subpoenas related to the modified hydrofluoric acid tank were relevant and within the Board’s authority because “the risks of … an accidental release of modified hydrofluoric acid were among the ‘facts, conditions, and circumstances’” of the February 15, 2015, explosion:

The Board is not limited to the “facts, conditions, and circumstances” that caused the accidental release. The Board should look as well to the effects and the potential harm, were a similar incident to occur.

The presence of two tanks full of toxic chemicals on the site of the explosion, very close to where debris from that explosion landed, is among the “circumstances” of the explosion.

The CSB is hopeful that Exxon will cooperate in providing information on the HF tanks to the CSB as promptly as possible, just as it has cooperated in the past.  With this information, the CSB will be able to complete a critical part of its investigation into the Torrance refinery explosion that has been stalled due to litigation.

I would like to recognize the CSB legal team’s expertise and persistence in pursuing the matter, and to thank the attorneys at the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for their excellent representation of the CSB. I would also like to thank the Attorney General of California and the South Coast Air Quality Management District for filing an Amicus brief with the Court in support of the CSB.

The case is The case is United States v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 9th Cir., No. 18-55481, 12/9/19 and is available at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2019/12/09/18-55481.pdf

==== END STATEMENT======

If you have access to the Daily Breeze on-line newspaper, you can get more information on this on their website: https://www.dailybreeze.com/2019/12/14/court-rules-exxonmobil-must-give-feds-crucial-data-on-2015-torrance-refinery-explosion/

Updates from TRAA

    1. Thursday night the TRAA team performed well at the AQMD community meeting on fence line monitoring.  Eight members attended (with short notice) and made excellent presentations and questions to the staff. Together we made the following points.
      1. That HF which is an acute problem should be separated from the monitoring of chronic pollutants. – Al Sattler, Steve D and Connie
      2. That HF is about life-and-death for ourselves and our children, very powerfully underscored by Seth
      3. That community people have sacrificed a lot and are willing to continue to sacrifice – David Poster
      4. Highlighting the test of HF that was done with 8000 pounds showing deadly levels at 2 miles and compared to the presence and settler tanks of 100,000 pounds, showing that it 6 miles (where the meeting was held) we were in the danger zone – a leaflet was passed out to that effect.
      5. That the fence line monitoring system by the refineries had significant gaps (along Crenshaw where the HF unit is) and of course in the event of a major release, a robust system for informing and evacuating the community was needed and not part of the 1180 process.
      6. While the community was present, as well as a representative of Janice Hahn and the El Segundo Fire Department, the Torrance Fire Department and City Council were absent.
      7. We also made some good contacts with other attendees. So thanks to Al Sattler, Connie Sullivan, DeDe Moore, Steve Goldsmith, David Poster, Dr. Gengh, Steve Dillow, Seth Kaufman, and Jennifer from Sup Hahn for continuing to say MHF/HF has got a go!
    2. A member was able to get a $500 donation from a pizza business!
    3. Next Week – December 18, PBF is having an event that we will want to attend – save the date!

      Torrance Refining Company LLC will host a community meeting to provide information about the Torrance Refinery’s fenceline air monitoring system that will be implemented January 2020 to comply with South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 1180.

      December 18, 2019
      6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
      North High School Library
      3620 W. 182nd Street, Torrance, CA 90504

Cause of Philadelphia fire sounds alarm over aging U.S. refineries

A new analysis from Reuters shows the dangers at refineries across the country due to aging and unmaintained equipment. The PES fire and explosion “stemmed from equipment installed in the 1970s that had been allowed to run to failure”. Remember, the Torrance Refinery has been using HF Alkylation since about 1959.

From Reuters via CNBC (Follow Link for entire Article)

  • Decades-old pipe linked to fire had not been checked-CSB
  • U.S. refineries surveyed by Reuters on average 80 yrs old
  • Some old equipment exempt from tougher rules on new parts

PHILADELPHIA, Nov 6 (Reuters) – How did a piece of piping installed when Richard Nixon was U.S. president go without once being checked before leading to a fire that devastated the East Coast’s largest and oldest oil refinery?

That’s a question safety experts and activists are putting to regulators after the devastating fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery in June, worried more disasters are waiting to happen in an industry reliant on old equipment.

Last year, U.S. refiners processed nearly 17 million barrels of crude oil every day, the most in the country’s history as it cashes in on a boom in shale oil.

But many have decades-old infrastructure, risking outages that could cost the industry billions.

The PES refinery is one of nearly 30 in the United States that are more than a century old, while a Reuters review of over 100 operating U.S. refineries that process more than 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day showed they are on average 80 years old. 1/8GRAPHIC: Aging U.S. refineries: https://tmsnrt.rs/33guhA8

Refineries frequently update their systems and replace old parts, but the PES fire, along with incidents in Washington state and California earlier this decade, stemmed from equipment installed in the 1970s that had been allowed to run to failure, according to U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) reports.

The suspected cause of the PES explosion has raised fears about future incidents because of the leeway given to refiners for inspecting parts, and because some older equipment is exempt from more stringent standards for newly installed parts.

“A lot of these refineries around the U.S. are quite old now,” said former CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz, who left the agency last year. “That doesn’t mean that every single piece of equipment dates back to the founding, but they are old and eventually all sorts of components can fail.”

The June 21 Philadelphia blaze was linked to corroded piping that had not been checked since it was installed in 1973, according to the CSB’s initial findings. The fire is still under investigation by the CSB and other public agencies.

It caused a fuel leak and explosions that sent toxic hydrofluoric acid (HF) into the air and hurled debris the size of a tractor-trailer across a nearby river, the CSB’s report said.

Shortly after the fire, PES filed for bankruptcy protection.

See more at the link above