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Mayors Call for End of Hydrogen Fluoride Use at Refinery

The Twin Ports mayors are calling for an end to hydrogen fluoride use at the Superior oil refinery after last week's explosion and fire. The Twin Ports mayors are calling for an end to hydrogen fluoride use at the Superior oil refinery after last week's explosion and fire. |  Photo: WDIO-TV

Updated: May 01, 2018 06:13 PM

The mayors of Superior and Duluth are calling on Husky Energy to end the use of hydrogen fluoride at its Superior refinery.

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A hydrogen fluoride tank was a few hundred feet away from last Thursday's refinery explosion and fire.  A 2011 report by the Center for Public Integrity said that hydrogen fluoride could travel up to 25 miles, possibly causing serious injury for the 180,000 people who live within that distance of the Superior refinery.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the substance is corrosive to the eyes, the skin, and the respiratory tract, and exposure above safe workplace levels may lead to death.  The agency's safety card for hydrogen fluoride says, "a harmful concentration of this gas in the air will be reached very quickly on loss of containment."

In a statement Tuesday, Superior Mayor Jim Paine said he has heard many concerns from community members about the use of the chemical.  Paine said he relayed those concerns to Husky Energy CEO Rob Peabody and other company officials.

"I asked them to discontinue its use and convert to a safer chemical process and to report back to me on any and all cost and infrastructure challenges that might prevent them from doing so. In the meantime, I asked them to disclose all of the safety measures they had and still have in place that prevent this chemical from harming the public as well as any other relevant facts regarding HF so that the public can remain informed during this debate," Paine wrote on Facebook.

Paine went on to say that Husky agreed to full transparency during investigations into the fire and explosion. Peabody, who was in Superior on Tuesday to meet with employees, declined WDIO's request for an interview but issued a statement saying the company is working with government investigations and has launched an investigation of its own.

Meanwhile, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson issued a statement backing Paine's call for an end to hydrogen fluoride use, calling the explosion a clear call to action.  Most of Duluth is within ten miles of the refinery, and all of it is within 25 miles.

"We welcome [Husky's] investment in our economies and the good paying jobs this work provides. However, choosing the known risks of hydrogen fluoride is not something that is in keeping with the premise of being a good corporate partner. It elevates danger to our environment and our people," Larson said.

Refinery Manager Kollin Schade said during a news conference Monday that they may look at removing hydrogen fluoride from the plant's operation.  The Center for Public Integrity report said it is used to process high-octane gasoline, and that the Superior refinery is one of about 50 nationwide that uses the chemical.

Superior Fire Chief Steve Panger said the tank at the refinery is capable of holding 78,000 pounds and was holding 15,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride at the time of the explosion and fire.  He told Eyewitness News on Monday that their biggest concern when calling an evacuation was the possibility of hydrogen fluoride being released into the air.
 

Copyright 2018 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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