CSB Asks EPA to Review 1993 HF Study

In a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the safety board cited two of its recent investigations. CSB conducted public hearings in both at which members of the surrounding communities expressed concern about the adequacy of the risk management strategies for the use of HF and the effectiveness of community notification procedures in the event of a catastrophic release.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, known as CSB, recently sent a letter to the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency asking that EPA review its 1993 hydrofluoric acid (HF) study to determine whether refineries existing risk management plans are sufficient to prevent catastrophic releases of the chemical, as well as whether there are commercially viable, inherently safer alkylation technologies for use in petroleum refineries.

Addressed to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the letter was stamped April 23 and was posted to CSB's website the following day.

"In the last four years, the CSB has investigated two refinery incidents where an explosion elevated the threat of a release of HF. Refinery workers and surrounding community residents are rightly concerned about the adequacy of the risk management for the use of hazardous chemicals like HF. The EPA should review its 1993 HF study to ensure the health and safety of communities near petroleum refineries utilizing HF," CSB Interim Executive Kristen Kulinowski said.

The agency's letter said the two refinery incidents were the Feb. 18, 2015, explosion at the former ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif., when an electrostatic precipitator in the fluid catalytic cracking unit exploded during maintenance activities; and the April 26, 2018, explosion and fire at the Superior Refinery Company LLC refinery in Superior, Wis., known as the Husky Refinery.

The safety board noted that HF is a highly toxic chemical that can seriously injure or kill someone exposed at a concentration of 30 parts per million and is used in about 50 of the approximately 150 refineries in the United States, as well as many other industries. In a refinery, the chemical is used as a catalyst in the creation of a blending agent for high-octane gasoline.

In both of the investigations, CSB conducted a public hearing in which members of the surrounding communities expressed their concerns about the adequacy of the risk management strategies for the use of HF and the effectiveness of community notification procedures in the event of a catastrophic release. "The EPA is the appropriate agency to assess the adequacy of risk management for the use of chemicals like HF. Refiners, their workforce, and communities that surround the refineries need assurances that the risk plans are adequate to prevent a catastrophic release," Kulinowski said.

The letter states that the safety board understands that new alkylation technologies are being developed that may have inherent safety advantages over the use of HF at U.S. refineries. "These include a solid-state technology and an ionic liquid technology, both of which are currently being planned to replace existing HF alkylation units in at least two U.S. refineries," it states.

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