AQMD Planning to Study Phase-Out of Toxic Chemical

The South Coast Air Quality Management District on Friday approved a plan to establish an industry and government task force to study the possible phase-out of a lethal chemical, hydrogen fluoride, at refineries in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The board acted after being told by the AQMD staff that hydrogen fluoride, if released in significant quantities, can be as dangerous as methyl isocyanate, the chemical that killed more than 2,000 people in Bhopal, India, in December, 1984.

The AQMD staff urged formation of the task force after an investigation of a Nov. 24 explosion and two-day fire at the Mobil Oil Corp. refinery in Torrance.

Mobil concluded that the blast was caused by excess hydrofluoric acid in a refinery unit that produces gasoline. Liquid hydrofluoric acid forms hydrogen fluoride gas under temperature and pressure conditions found in refineries, if exposed to air.


The AQMD staff said the small amount of hydrogen fluoride gas released at Mobil posed no danger but noted that “if released in significant quantities, the resulting hydrogen fluoride plume could pose an extreme and immediate health hazard to exposed citizens.”

In addition to Mobil, AQMD said five other industrial plants in the Los Angeles area handle or store significant quantities of hydrogen fluoride. They are the Allied Corp. in El Segundo; Powerine Co. and the Golden West Refinery, Santa Fe Springs; Union Pacific Resource refinery, Wilmington, and Jones Co., South Los Angeles.