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3 Workers Burned by Hot Oil When Plug Fails in Mobil Refinery Pipe

Times Staff Writer

Two workers at the troubled Mobil Oil Corp. refinery in Torrance were seriously burned and a third suffered minor injuries Tuesday when a plug failed and hot oil shot through a pipe.

Mobil spokesman Jim Carbonetti said the three were working on a filter screen in the pipe when the accident occurred.

Torrance Fire Chief Scott Adams said that when the temporary plug dislodged, oil heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit shot through the pipe and burned the workers.

Richard Alcaraz, 43, of Wilmington and John Grundman, 32, of Downey were reported in serious condition at Torrance Memorial Hospital Medical Center with second-degree burns over 10% to 15% of their bodies. A third employee, Gordon Rock, 31, of Bellflower, was treated for minor burns.

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The incident is the latest in a series of explosions, fires and other accidents that have claimed three lives and caused more than a dozen serious injuries at the sprawling refinery during the last two years.

Leslie W. Michael, head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Long Beach, said the federal agency will investigate Tuesday’s accident.

Last June, Mobil paid $4,000 in fines and did not contest four federal OSHA citations for serious safety violations stemming from a major explosion and two-day fire at the refinery in November, 1987.

That blast was caused by an excess of lethal hydrofluoric acid in a refinery unit that produces unleaded gasoline.

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The explosion focused attention on the potential dangers to Torrance residents posed by use of the chemical at the refinery. If released into the air, hydrofluoric acid forms a ground-hugging cloud that, in sufficient quantities, is deadly to all exposed.

Worried about the potential risk, Torrance City Councilman Dan Walker has launched an initiative campaign that would ban the use and storage of large quantities of the acid in the city.


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