Duluth Council Asking EPA to Study HF Use at Refineries

Baihly Warfield
Updated: July 16, 2019 01:48 PM

The Duluth City Council will ask the Environmental Protection Agency to study the use of hyrdogen fluoride at refineries across the country. 


Last week, Mayor Emily Larson announced she wanted the council to approve the resolution. She said she does not believe Husky has proven that HF is the safest choice for the Husky Refinery in Superior. 

The council passed the resolution 8-0 with Councilor Jay Fosle absent.

If released, hydrogen fluoride can pose health hazards, including lung damage and severe burns. No HF was released during the explosion and fire at Husky in 2018.

"I can't guarantee that that would happen the next time based on the response and based on the risk," Larson said last week while talking about her experience in the command center on April 26, 2018.

According to the Chemical Safety Board, the last time the EPA studied hydrogen fluoride was in 1993. The CSB also wants the EPA to do a new study, and the agency wrote a letter to that effect in April.

Husky plans to continue the use of HF when it rebuilds the Superior refinery. 

"Before coming to our decision in April, we undertook a rigorous evaluation of hydrogen fluoride options and alternatives and that analysis concluded the alternatives were not commercially viable or introduced significant risks for the Superior Refinery," Mel Duvall wrote in an emailed statement last week. "There was no release of HF during last year's fire and all safeguards worked as designed. As part of our rebuild plans, we are incorporating additional safety enhancements."

A handful of people who spoke at the meeting encouraged councilors to pass the resolution. 

"Even strict implementation of Husky's new safety procedures would not guarantee avoidance of another explosion or fire if hydrogen fluoride were still used," Dorie Reisenweber said. "People in the Twin Ports area are not expendable. The risk of hydrogen fluoride is not acceptable. And I think you all know that."

"This is not a joke or a could be. If that refinery ever blows, you're dead. You have no chance to get away," Inese Holte said. "It's not like the benzene spill where we all could drive away."

Councilor Arik Forsman offered an amendment Monday night expressing support for the refinery's economic impact, and it was added to the final resolution.

"...the city of Duluth recognizes the importance of the refinery to the Twin Ports economy and hopes to see the facility reconstructed safely utilizing the talents of local tradeswomen and tradesmen," the addition read. 

Tuesday night, the Superior City Council will consider a resolution of support for rebuilding the refinery. However, the Superior version does not mention HF. 

Husky expects to be fully operating again in Superior mid-2021. 

Other Council Business

  • Councilors designated the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad as a historic preservation landmark. The move does not have any impact on the train's current or future operation, which could be in jeopardy. An environmental cleanup project in the Mud Lake area could shorten the tracks, but no final decisions have been made. 
  • The council asked city administration to study how to expedite redevelopment in 12 core investment areas of the city. 


Baihly Warfield

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