Washington D.C. August 31, 2023 - Today, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) applauded the updated National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (NECIs) recently issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will continue EPA's focus on “Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities” and, importantly, for the first time emphasize inspecting and addressing noncompliance at facilities that use highly toxic hydrogen fluoride (HF).
In announcing this initiative, EPA pointed to “recent incidents involving the release or potential release of highly toxic hydrogen fluoride … and concerns about the potentially catastrophic consequences of a hydrogen fluoride release”.
CSB Chairperson Steve Owens said, “The CSB applauds EPA for continuing to focus on preventing accidental releases from chemical facilities and for recognizing the need to emphasize inspections and compliance efforts at facilities that use hydrogen fluoride. EPA can help ensure that facilities that use HF are operated safely.”
The CSB has investigated several incidents in recent years involving a release of HF, or a “near-miss” of a HF release, where nearby communities have been put at risk.
In 2019, a major fire and explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) Refinery in Philadelphia, PA, resulted in the release of more than 5,000 pounds of highly toxic HF into the air. Fortunately, due in part to favorable wind conditions, the surrounding community was not harmed by the HF release. However, if the HF had traveled beyond the refinery boundary, there could have been significant adverse impacts to the community.
In 2018, two vessels in the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit at the Husky Superior Refinery in Superior, WI, exploded, propelling metal fragments throughout the facility that punctured a nearby asphalt storage tank at the refinery and resulted in a serious asphalt fire. An HF storage tank, which was closer to the explosion than the asphalt tank, could have been punctured by the debris from the explosion. Over 2,500 residents of the City of Superior were evacuated from their homes, and the City of Duluth, Minnesota, issued a shelter in place order, due to the potential risk of a release of highly toxic HF from the refinery.
In 2015, an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) in the FCC unit at the former ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, CA, exploded and spewed debris that nearly hit two tanks containing modified HF. FCC catalyst spread throughout the nearby community because of the explosion, and while no HF was released, the event raised significant concerns in the community about the potential impact of a HF release at the facility.
In February 2023, the CSB sent a letter to EPA urging EPA to continue to focus its enforcement and compliance efforts on preventing accidental releases at chemical facilities and to begin emphasizing inspections and compliance actions at facilities that use HF.
Chairperson Owens added: “The CSB appreciates EPA’s continued commitment to chemical facility safety and their new emphasis on ensuring compliance at facilities that use HF.”
The CSB’s board members are appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.
Please visit our website, www.csb.gov. For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen at [email protected]