Air Quality Regulators Don't Look Eager To Ban A Deadly Refinery Acid

An explosion at the Torrance Refinery in 2015 caused four minor injuries and prompted an outcry from environmentalists and community groups. (Daniella Segura/KPCC)

Ever since the 2015 explosion that rocked the Torrance Refinery, environmentalists and community groups have agitated for a ban on the use of deadly hydrofluoric acid at the two remaining California refineries that still use it.

They were disappointed when the Refinery Committee of the South Coast Air Quality Management District's governing board voted 3-2 Saturday in favor of increasing safety measures at Torrance Refinery and Valero's Wilmington refinery rather than a phase-out of the chemical.

As early as April 2018, AQMD officials appeared to be moving away from the ban concept, and Saturday's vote sends the question to the full board, with a recommendation for more protections versus a ban.

Hydrofluoric acid can create a deadly ground-hugging cloud that could kill thousands in its path.

But the refineries, business advocacy groups and some local unions have opposed a ban due to the expense of switching to another technology and potential job losses. They have argued that the acid could be safely contained at the refinery with improved protective measures.

In exchange for each refinery proposing new safety equipment and a computer model demonstrating that it would work sufficiently to keep the public from sustaining irreversible injury, the refineries can continue to use hydrofluoric acid.

The full board takes up the matter for a vote in November.