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Home / Torrance Refining Co.

LA County again pushes for phase-out of oil refinery chemical MHF

Continuing a years-long campaign, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state attorney general asking that California take whatever steps necessary to halt the use of a much-debated chemical at oil refineries in Torrance and Wilmington.

The board unanimously approved a motion by Supervisor Janice Hahn calling for the letter to be  signed by all five members of the board, urging that modified hydrofluoric acid be phased out at the two refineries and replaced with a safer alternative.

Hahn said the Torrance Refining Co. and Valero Wilmington Refinery are the last two in the state using the chemical, known as MHF. Efforts have been undertaken in the past to encourage a phasing out of the chemical, most notably following a Feb. 18, 2015, explosion at the Torrance refinery. According to a federal review after the blast, debris from the explosion nearly ruptured a tank containing MHF.

“If it had hit that tank, we would have had a massive disaster here in Southern California,” Hahn said. “It’s a reminder to all of us (of) the life-threatening catastrophic risk that MHF still causes to county residents.”

Hahn said the South Coast Air Quality Management District once pursued ordering a phase-out of the chemical, but agreed instead to allow refineries to implement additional safety measures to ensure the chemical remains contained.

“The refineries should implement every safety measure possible, but they will fail in the event of a major earthquake, explosion or an attack, because this deadly, toxic, flesh-eating vapor would seep out and literally kill people,” Hahn said. “So the only way you make these refineries safe … is to not have that deadly chemical be used there.”

MHF is used in the process of refining oil to meet air-quality standards.

Refinery officials have defended the use of MHF, which is one of the most effective compounds that can be used in the process, and they insist it is safe to use. Torrance Refinery officials said eliminating the use of the chemical would likely force the closure of the Torrance and Wilmington refineries, leading to increased gas prices and dramatic decreases in gasoline supplies in Southern California.

They said the “modified” portion of MHF dramatically increases the safety of the chemical. They also claimed there has never been an off-site release of the chemical.

The motion approved by the board Tuesday also calls for staff to review existing health and safety measures in place relating to MHF, request an update from AQMD on safety measures in place at refineries and report back to the board in six months on other steps the county can take to ensure the safety of residents living near the refineries.

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