Community Activists Protest Use of Toxic Chemical in Torrance and Wilmington

An image of the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance after the February 2015 explosion. (Screenshot via CBS News)

Environmental Justice activists of the South Bay and Harbor Area are leading a march at the former ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance on Saturday, February 18 to pressure local refineries and decision makers to end the use of Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF).

1.7 magnitude explosion in February 2015 at the Torrance refinery exposed neighboring residents to dangerous chemicals and debris, raising concerns about the risks of MHF to surrounding communities. Pictures from a federal investigation, as reported by CBS News, showed that the explosion could have been much worse as an MHF chemical tank was almost hit. If hit, the tank would have released a toxic cloud that could travel for miles causing injuries and even death.

A photo obtained by CBS News shows the near miss of a Hydrofluoric Acid tank at the ExxonMobil Refinery in Torrance, CA. (Screenshot via CBS News)

A South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) investigation discovered that the MHF chemical ExxonMobil used was not much different or less dangerous than unmodified Hydrofluoric Acid. After paying several fines, ExxonMobil sold the Torrance refinery to PBF Energy in September 2015. Since the sale, a series of problems have occurred at the refinery, including a Shelter-in-Place Order (an order for residents to stay indoors) which was issued as a result of several hours of flaring.

“Wilmington should support Torrance residents in demanding a ban on the deadly Modified Hydrofluoric Acid known as MHF. Not only to support other refinery communities, but also because the Valero Refinery in Wilmington also uses this dangerous chemical. MHF has the potential to kill large numbers of people,” says Alicia Rivera, community organizer at Communities for a Better Environment, a local environmental justice organization that works in Wilmington. The organization recently led a successful lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles due to the proximity of oil wells near homes in Wilmington.

According to the Daily Breeze, the now PBF Energy refinery in Torrance and the Valero refinery in Wilmington are the only refineries in the South Bay that use MHF. In January 2017, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) announced plans to review the use of the chemical ​and potentially ban its use. A timeline for the review has not been set but a few articles mention the process should take the rest of the year.

This February, two years since the explosion in Torrance, Former CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson was sworn in as the Trump administration’s secretary of state, a decision that has upset Los Angeles residents impacted by the various environmental disasters caused by the refining company. All while, California is still investigating whether ExxonMobil lied about climate-change risks and the community of Torrance is still trying to remove the deadly MHF chemical from its community.

More information about the Torrance Refinery Rally & March can be found here

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