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Oil Refineries Ordered to Reduce Risk of Toxic Spills

Times Staff Writer

Two oil refineries with histories of polluting the environment have been ordered by the fire chief to find ways of preventing and handling spills of hazardous materials.

The refineries, Powerine Oil Co. and Golden West Refining Co., also will be required to upgrade equipment, Fire Chief Robert Wilson said.

“Although we’ve never had a large-scale spill with serious injuries, we don’t want to take any chances,” Wilson said.

He said consultants for the refineries will study “almost everything” that can happen: earthquakes, thunderstorms, airplane crashes, power and equipment failures, employee error and sabotage.

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The refineries will submit preliminary findings in December, Wilson said. Final reports are due next July.

Hazardous Chemical

The first part of the study will focus on preventing and cleaning up hydrofluoric acid spills. The refineries have on hand about 20,000 gallons of the extremely hazardous chemical, which is used to turn crude oil into gasoline, Wilson said. If spilled, the chemical can become a deadly cloud that can travel for miles.

Wilson said a 1986 state law gives the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department power to require the two refineries to conduct the studies.

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John Miller, manager of Golden West Refining, said he expects to learn a lot from the reports.

“We’ll be able to get an idea of what can go wrong and, if something does go wrong, what to do,” Miller said. “Based on those findings, we’ll make all the necessary improvements.”

However, the studies and improvements could be expensive, officials for both companies said. They expect to pay at least $200,000 in consultants’ fees, and upgrading equipment could cost twice that that amount.

“It will be costly,” said Don Baker, environmental legal counsel with Powerine, “but so can an accident.”

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The two refineries have been fined and criticized repeatedly for polluting the air and water.

Early this month, Golden West Refining Co. was ordered to pay about $27,000 in fines and restitution for dumping an organic chemical into the sewer system and releasing a non-toxic chemical into the air, said Robert Brodney, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.

Company, Officials Fined

In March, Powerine and three of its officials were fined $177,750 for knowingly releasing pollutants into the air.

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According to court documents, the company improperly stored refined fuel and released hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere between Dec. 18, 1987, and Jan. 2, 1989.

In 1988, the two refineries were cited nearly 40 times for violating air- and water-pollution regulations. The year before, they were fined nearly $400,000 for air-pollution violations.

Only minor accidents have occurred in Santa Fe Springs involving hydrofluoric acid, Wilson said. At Golden West Refining, from 1985 to 1988, eight workers became ill as a result of spills, he said.

In Torrance, concern over hydrofluoric acid stored at the Mobil refinery there has prompted a lawsuit by the city and an initiative measure, promoted by Councilman Dan Walker, that would prohibit the oil company from keeping more than 250 gallons of the chemical at its refinery.

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Wilson said he hopes most of the violations in Santa Fe Springs will cease after the improvements are made.

Eventually, he said, the Fire Department may order other companies in the industrial city to conduct similar studies.

“No matter what we do, there’s always the possibility there still could be deaths and injuries,” Wilson said. “But if there is an accident, we want to keep the loss of life and injuries to a minimum.”


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