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Board seeks EPA review of hydrofluoric acid in wake of refinery fires

Aerial scene of the Husky refinery fire and explosion in Superior on April 26. (file / News Tribune)

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to review its existing hydrofluoric acid (HF) study.

The board is calling for a re-examining of existing regulations and the viability of using inherently safer alkylation technologies instead of hydrofluoric acid in petroleum refineries.

The move comes after two refinery incidents including the fire at the Husky Refinery in Superior last year.   

“In the last four years, the chemical safety board has investigated two refinery incidents where an explosion elevated the threat of a release of HF,” the board’s interim executive, Kristen Kulinowski, said. “Refinery workers and surrounding community residents are rightly concerned about the adequacy of the risk management for the use of hazardous chemicals like HF.”

In addition to the Husky fire last year, the CSB investigated an explosion that occurred Feb. 18, 2015, at the former ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif.

CSB stated in a letter dated Tuesday, the EPA should determine whether refineries that use hydrofluoric acid have sufficient risk management plans to prevent catastrophic releases and whether there are commercially viable and inherently safer alkylation technologies for use in petroleum refineries.  

Hydrofluoric acid is a highly toxic chemical that can seriously injure or cause death at a concentration of 30 parts per million, which is used in about 50 of the nation’s estimated 150 refineries, 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.