At approximately 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, a fire was reported at the
crude oil unit of a plant in Torrance, CA. While the flames shot as high
as 40 feet in the air, they were beaten within 30 minutes by teams of
three dozen firefighters. The fire is believed to have been caused by
an explosion, but that has yet to be confirmed. No injuries have been
reported and no evacuations were necessary.
Incident Occurs on Anniversary of Near-Catastrophe
The incident occurred on the day that marked two years since a tragic blast
occurred at the same plant. In the 2015 explosion, hydrofluoric acid was
very nearly released. Had that occurred, it would have led to the death
or injury of thousands. Still, nearby neighborhoods were showered with
the debris and several contractors were injured in the blast. The plant
was closed for more than a year after and Exxon-Mobil, who then owned
the plant, was fined more than $500 million for workplace violations.
A Year of Violations & Problems
Since re-opening, the plant has moved under the ownership of PBF Energy
but it has still been plagued by several incidents. Just last week, one
employee and six contract workers were sent to the hospital after there
was a leak of hydrofluoric acid. They had been exposed while units were
shut down for overhaul. Other incidents include at least two outages,
as well as a violation notice for excessive flaring.
Protest Planned for Morning of the Fire
On Saturday, a group known as “South Bay Flare” carried out
a previously planned march to protest concern over the plant, pollution,
and past accidents. Organizers estimated that the final group grew to
over 400 people. The crowd first gathered at Columbia Park and then made
their way toward the plant while chanting things such as “Hey, hey,
ho, ho, MHF has got to go” and carrying signs that ranged from “Another
Fire? Really?” to “Congratulations PBF, zero days explosion
U.S. Representative’s Appeal to the Safety Board
There is now considerable momentum behind the movement to ban hydrofluoric
acid and look into the refinery. U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu released a statement
on Saturday in which he said he would be asking the U.S. Chemical Safety
Board to include the latest incident in their ongoing investigation.
“Congresswoman Maxine Waters and I requested the U.S. Chemical Safety
Board to investigate the explosion two years ago. They have not yet completed
their final investigation, and I will be asking the Chemical Safety Board
to include today’s fire and explosion as part of their investigation,” he said.
He went on to praise the South Coast Air Quality Management District for
its proposed plan to slowly phase out the use of modified hydrofluoric
acid at the plant, as well as urge them to act quickly.
“Refineries are not supposed to have explosions. We need to ban MHF
as soon as possible.”