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Activists marking Torrance refinery explosion anniversary call for investigation

Activists held an event Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the explosion at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance that injured four workers.
(KTLA-TV)

A group of activists on Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of an explosion at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance that injured four workers and prompted continuing concerns about the potential for an even more catastrophic incident and the release of toxic chemicals and fumes into local communities.

The explosion on Feb. 18, 2015, was described by federal regulators as “a serious near miss.”

The investigation of the Torrance explosion by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board revealed that a piece of equipment nearly crashed into a tank holding tens of thousands of pounds of modified hydrofluoric acid — a highly toxic chemical used to make high-octane gasoline.

When released, the chemical can form a deadly, ground-hugging cloud that, in the event of a major leak, could have caused “serious injury or death to many community members,” according to the agency.

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On Saturday, the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance announced a campaign urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to call for an investigation into the use of modified hydrofluoric acid at the facility, now operated by Torrance Refining Co., as well as by Valero’s Wilmington refinery. The refineries are the only two in the state that use the substance.

The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance plans on Tuesday to deliver a letter from its science advisory panel to Newsom’s office urging him to request that Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s office investigate how the Torrance and Wilmington refineries are able to legally operate using hydrofluoric acid.

The new campaign comes several months after air quality regulators killed a years-long push for stronger regulation of hydrofluoric acid at the two refineries.

In September, the South Coast Air Quality Management District governing board voted instead to accept a voluntary oil industry pledge to enhance safety measures. The decision by the board came one week after the two refineries sent letters offering to install improved safety systems in the coming years if regulators ended their pursuit of new rules for the chemical.

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Times staff writer Tony Barboza contributed to this report.


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