Torrance refinery

A home with the Torrance refinery in the distance. Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo Beach have all signed a letter to South Coast Air Quality Management District denouncing the use of hydrofluoric acid at the refinery.

Story: “Near-miss” Torrance blast sparks debate over refinery safety

When: Feb. 18, 2015

What happened: When a magnitude 1.7 explosion at the Torrance Refinery, then owned by ExxonMobil, rocked parts of the South Bay almost five years ago, it reignited a debate over the safety of modified hydrofluoric acid that continues to this day.

Regulatory agencies are still investigating possible risks involved with modified hydrofluoric acid’s use at refineries in densely populated Torrance and Wilmington and debate is expected to endure for years to come.

Current refinery owner PBF Energy says it has improved safety at the plant under its watch and defends the use of the chemical, which company officials say contains an additive that reduces the material’s risk.

The political will has so far been lacking to ban the modified chemical’s use, in large part to protect jobs, ensure a relatively cheap gasoline supply and keep lucrative tax revenues flowing into government coffers.

Debate over the explosion has, in the meantime, produced its own public byproducts:

  • Heightened awareness arose over  excessive flaring  Such concern sparked the creation of a web-based, mobile-device-friendly, interactive map that tracks flaring at refineries.
  • More air-quality information is being gathered and shared. Southern California’s air-quality watchdog launched an air-monitoring project, using sophisticated light sensors to measure pollutants around the Torrance Refinery and generate near real-time, publicly-available data.

Contact Lisa Jacobs or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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