On Tuesday night, the Manhattan Beach City Council, in a unanimous vote, joined Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, as well as the county Board of Supervisors, to approve signing onto a letter to the Southcoast Air Quality Management District opposing the use of MHF at the Torrance Refinery.
All three beach cities want the hydrofluoric acid eliminated from the refinery. PBF Energy purchased the “155,000 barrel-per-day” refinery from ExxonMobil following a February 2015 explosion that opponents believe could have potentially led to a catastrophic release of the acid.
The Manhattan Beach City Council said Tuesday they are viable alternatives that were already being instituted at other refineries. The risk of the deadly chemical spreading in an accident was just too great, they said.
“There is a lot of risk that we all live with, some of it we are trying to mitigate,” said Councilmember Nancy Hersman. “There is only so much you can do. We’re going to have earthquakes. But do we really need to risk that? I have to come down on the side of our community that’s very concerned about it, and our residents are afraid it’s just too much risk.”
Councilmember Steve Napolitano said he was not interested in shutting down the Torrance refinery as they contribute many jobs in the community. But nonetheless, he supported a ban on MHF.
“What I do know is this is bad stuff and in the grand scheme of things we are trying to get rid of bad stuff,” Napolitano said. “Industry does find a way, but sometimes they need a push. I think the refinery will survive, but they do need a push to move away form MHF.”
More than 30 people spoke at the Manhattan Beach meeting, many of whom worked at the Torrance refinery and supported the use of the dangerous chemical. Others from the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance were opposed to its use.
“While it is dangerous, there are other dangerous things we work with,” said one employee. “It is dangerous, but they respect it. They don’t fear it. A lot of the safety equipment is there to protect the workers and community.”
Adam Web, a technical expert at the Torrance refinery, said there was lots of misinformation and speculation being spread about MHF.
“There is risk and safety,” he said. “MHF was shown in the 90s to be as safe or safer than any alternative. Nothing else has been commercially proven.”
Hermosa Beach support
At the March 13 Hermosa Beach City Council meeting, there were also more than 30 speakers with a majority in favor of the ban. The council voted 3-1 in favor of the ban with Councilmember Hany Fangary the only no vote. Although he agreed with the ban, he believed a four-year requirement for PBF Energy to comply wasn't sufficient time.
Councilmember Justin Massey said there are available technologies PBF can install to eliminate the risk of MHF which are “consistent with the major infrastructure improvements that are a regular part of the refinery business.”
“MHF that is used at the Torrance refinery can reach Hermosa Beach and will injure and kill a lot of people if released as it nearly was in 2015,” Massey said. “This is an aging refinery, purchased by PBF at a corresponding discount compared with its evaluation. Despite the best efforts of its staff, many of whom are here with us tonight, the refinery has a spotty safety and operating record.”
Many of the speakers expressed their concerns about safety.
“If there is a leak from one of these tanks, it forms a low hanging cloud that hugs the ground due to its density,” said one speaker. “The cloud is both acidic, it will burn your flesh and melt your corneas. It is also poisonous once it's inside your body. It will attack the calcium ions in your bones and teeth usually leading to a fatal heart attack.”
A refinery employee, who had worked there 26 years, vouched for the safety of the chemical.
“I'm responsible for the safety and well being of those employees and my fellow community members,” she said. “I assure you I take that very seriously. At the refinery safety is focus of everything that we do and it is fundamental to who we are as employees and your fellow community members. I would not live where I do, I would not work where I do, if I did not know safety is the most importance part of what we do at the refinery and the MHF technology is as safe or safer than any commercially viable technology out there.”
Councilmember Mary Campbell said that even though incidents like what happened in 2015 is rare, the quicker MHF is eliminated, the better.
“We're lucky that we aren't sitting here, or not sitting here, dealing with the aftermath of a catastrophic event,” Campbell said. “I've lived in the South Bay for 17 years and I had not one clue about this as a potential threat until that explosion happened.”