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Mylar balloon causes power disruption and triggers flaring at ExxonMobil refinery

Flares burned overnight Thursday at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance after a Mylar balloon disrupted power in the area.

The Mylar balloon came in contact with a subtransmission power line about 5:43 p.m. Wednesday and caused a system disruption, but did not trigger a power outage, said Paul Griffo, spokesman of Southern California Edison.

The power interruption triggered an unplanned flaring event at the refinery in the 3700 block of West 190th Street, ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler said. The flare system is activated during an unplanned operational interruption.

No workers were injured during the flaring event.

“The power has since been restored, and personnel continue to diligently work to safely restore operations,” he said.

ExxonMobil officials do not expect the flaring to have an impact on operations at the refinery, Spitler said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District received eight complaints about smoke and odors, spokesman Sam Atwood said. Three of those complaints reported health symptoms, he said.

The flaring event comes more than a year after a large blast at the Torrance refinery injured four workers.

Inspectors took air samples Wednesday night to be analyzed at the district’s lab in Diamond Bar. The test results could take up to two days.

Investigators concluded the Feb. 18, 2015, explosion was the result of a hydrocarbon release from the fluid catalytic cracker unit into the electrostatic precipitator — a filtration device that removes fine particulates. The hydrocarbon release caused the electrostatic precipitator to explode.

Eight workers had to be decontaminated, and four suffered minor injuries and were sent to hospitals.

After the blast, Cal/OSHA ordered ExxonMobil to shut down the unit until it could demonstrate safe operation.

In August, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued 19 citations, most of which were classified as serious, for workplace safety and health violations at the refinery. ExxonMobil was fined $566,600 in penalties for the explosion.

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