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Five Years After Torrance Refinery Blast, Residents Still Want Chemical Ban

An explosion at the Torrance Refinery in 2015 caused four minor injuries and prompted an outcry from environmentalists and community groups. (Daniella Segura/KPCC)
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Five years after a massive explosion rocked the Torrance Refinery, nearby residents are still trying to ban the use of a dangerous chemical there.

The refinery's operation involves Modified Hydrofluoric Acid, which, if exposed to air, forms a toxic ground-hugging cloud that can move for miles. Thousands of residents of Torrance and nearby beach cities could be forced to shelter indoors if there were an accidental release of the acid.

Last September, the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s governing board voted against a ban, enabling Torrance Refinery to continue using the acid.

A residents group, the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, has now asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to order the state Attorney General’s office to investigate decades-old decisions that permitted the chemical to be used at refineries in Torrance and Wilmington. Read its letter here.

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TRAA spokesman Jim Eninger says turning to the governor might work due to new information.

During the most recent effort to ban the acid, scientists at the AQMD were finally able to learn its proprietary formula. They concluded it was not as safe as the refineries had claimed it to be.

The residents group says the permits to use the acid might not have been granted if decision makers had been privy to that information decades ago.

A spokeswoman for the Torrance Refinery says it plans to install added protections around the acid tanks, to make it less likely a leak could spread to the surrounding community

Torrance Refinery’s position is that the acid is a proven technology that has been extensively reviewed by local state and federal agencies, and safely used in Torrance for decades without a release that extended beyond the plant’s fenceline.