Hearing Held For Trouble-Plagued Torrance Refinery

TORRANCE (CBSLA.com/AP) — Officials held an investigative meeting Saturday to discuss safety issues at the Torrance Refining Company, which has been plagued by excessive flaring and increased pollution tied to repeated electrical outages and equipment breakdowns.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District meeting comes after the Torrance City Council this week voted not to ban the use of hydrofluoric acid at the plant. It also comes on the heels of an EPA report that raised concerns about safety violations at the facility. The all-day meeting at the Torrance Marriott Redondo Beach started at 9 a.m. and included local, state and federal regulators. Officials were also taking public comment.

Last fall, EPA inspectors found broken equipment that remained disabled for weeks even though its purpose is to help contain any accidental release of toxic hydrofluoric acid.

The probe also found that the plant required risk management plan understated the danger to the community from a fire or chemical release because of several errors and inaccuracies, the Daily Breeze reported.

Refinery managers say they use a modified form of the acid to make it safer, but industry critics and local activists have questioned whether it really is. Hydrofluoric acid is used in a refinery alkylation unit to manufacture high-octane grades of gasoline.

On Tuesday, the Torrance City Council voted 5-2 against banning the use of hydrofluoric acid, but 7-0 in favor of pushing for improved safety measures.

Torrance Councilman Tim Goodrich has championed phasing out used of the acid at the refinery. Only two California refineries — the one in Torrance and one Wilmington — do not use a safer alternative to hydrofluoric acid, which forms a potentially lethal toxic cloud when released.

The county Board of Supervisors supports a similar resolution supporting a proposal by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to ban the chemical.

“The revelations detailed in the EPA report underscore how dangerous modified hydrofluoric acid is, which is why we need a transition to a safer alternative,” Goodrich, who called the EPA report damning, said in remarks reported by the Breeze.

Following Saturday’s fact-finding hearing, AQMD officials are expected to consider measures to improve safety and air quality at the refinery.

On Feb. 18, 2015, an explosion slightly injured four contractors, destroyed a large part of the refinery and sent a fine white ash raining down on nearby homes and cars.

The explosion involved a pollution-control device called a precipitator. Federal regulators later concluded that the explosion could have been prevented if managers had taken into account aging safety equipment and shut down a key, spark-generating part of the refinery before attempting repairs elsewhere.

The blast tossed an 80,000-pound piece of equipment within feet of another unit where tens of thousands of pounds of modified hydrofluoric acid were stored in tanks.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded that there was a potential to release a toxic cloud and cause “serious injury or death to many community members.”

California regulators also fined ExxonMobil — then-owner of the refinery — more than $500,000 for safety violations.

Most of the refinery was shut down for more than a year, leading to a shortage of gas that meets California’s stricter pollution regulations and higher prices at the pump.

Since PBF Energy took over the refinery from ExxonMobil last year, the plant has seen at least one crane collapse and at least two fires, according to the Breeze.

Torrance Fire Department Assistant Chief Steve Treskes said last week that since PBF assumed control of the refinery last July 1, firefighters have received reports of 97 incidents there and responded to about 30 of them, the newspaper reported.

Firefighters responded to another equipment breakdown Tuesday caused by a power disruption that required an engine response and an unplanned flaring notification. A similar incident occurred last week, Treskes said.

The fire department has issued two violation notices to PBF since Jan. 1. One was issued for a nuisance odor, the other for failing to provide timely notifications of an incident as required, Treskes said.

New Jersey-based PBF Energy has until April 27 to respond to the EPA inspection findings. Jeff Dill, president of PBF痴 western division, says the company is reviewing the EPA report.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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