AQMD Committee Votes
(June 23, 2019, 5:45 p.m.) -- As carried LIVE on LBREPORT.com, on Saturday June 22 the South Coast Air Quality Management District's Refinery Committee voted 3-2 -- with L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn and Rolling Hills Estates Mayor Judy Mitchell dissenting -- to direct AQMD staff to continue to negotiate and develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Long Beach-adjacent Valero Wilmington refinery and the Torrance (ToRc) refinery that would continue to allow their use of Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF).
The two facilities are the only two refineries in CA that use MHF, a highly corrosive chemical that can burn and damage exposed surfaces and is also absorbed through the skin and can damage bones and internal organs. Experts have testified that MHF can cause health effects including death or irreversible health impacts, depending on factors that include the amount released, exposure duration, prevailing wind and weather conditions. AQMD staff has previously referred to this as a low probability, high consequence event.
The Valero Wilmington refinery (owned by Ultramar) at 2402 E. Anaheim St. in Wilmington, is the closer of the two refineries, basically next to West Long Beach and relatively short distances from downtown Long Beach, Wrigley and within a few miles of other LB neighborhoods. (The Torrance (ToRc) refinery at 3700 W. 190th St., formerly owned/operated by Exxon/Mobil, is now owned/operated by PBF Holdings Co.)
[Scroll down for further.]
LBREPORT.com provides on-demand access to the full AQMD Refinery Committee meeting
Among salient portions:
The Refinery Committee's majority approved motion directs AQMD staff to develop and negotiate an MOU with the refineries that "shall" include what it calls a "health protective performance standard" using enhanced "mitigation if released measures" that would result in an average MHF exposure concentration limited to 95 ppm over ten minutes as measured at nearest permanent residential receptor [a level an AQMD PPT slide indicates could cause some people temporary "discomfort" but not "irreversible" health impacts]. That "performance standard" is based on what the motion calls a "credible release scenarios" using a 1" release hole size. (AQMD staff recommended assuming a 1" to 2" release hole size.]
At the June 22 Refinery Committee meeting, Jim Eninger, PhD testified on behalf of the grassroots Torrance Refinery Action Alliance: "A performance standard must be designed to protect the community, not tailored to what the refineries are able to meet with enhanced mitigation...Both the refineries and the AQMD Staff envision HF releases where pipes break, but limit them to small one- and two-inch-diameter pipes. The February 18, 2015 explosion at the Torrance refinery hurled a 40-ton object at the settler tanks that nearly ripped off far larger pipes. All of the HF would have been released in less than a minute. We respectfully implore you to direct the Staff to include breaks in any size pipe, no matter what the size." [The 2015 Torrance "near miss" explosion is what prompted AQMD to begin its proceeding regarding the use of MHF in the densely populated area.]
Former TRAA president Sally Hiyati, PhD went further, stating bluntly: "No mitigation based performance standard is acceptable. No level of HF exposure is acceptable for any receptor, also known as a human being..."
More fundamentally, TRAA and others urging a phase out/ban on MHF cite the risk of possible large MHF releases from scenarios including a catastrophic earthquake, explosion, equipment failures or intentional acts. They note that multiple "safety" measures that failed at the Bhopal chemical plant, the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear plants (in addition to the 2015 "near miss" at the Torrance plant (then owned by Exxon-Mobil) that led AQMD staff to begin examining the MHF issue.
The Committee majority-approved motion doesn't mention a potential phase out of MHF. Two Inland Empire AQMD boardmembers made and secnded the motion: Highland Mayor pro tem Larry McCallon, seconded by Wildomar Councilman Ben Benoit; they were joined by OC Supervisor Lisa Bennett. It directs AQMD staff to negotiate and prepare the MOU with the goal of bringing the text to the full AQMD governing board at its November 2019 meeting. AQMD's 13-member governing board (listed here) currently has one vacancy, not yet filled by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Multiple area elected officials (the latter via previously submitted letters) have urged a phase out/ban of MHF. They include the full L.A. County Board of Supervisors (5-0), Congressmembers Ted Lieu, Nanette Barragan and Maxine Waters, the office of CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Assemblyman Al Maratsuchi and the City Councils of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. At the June 22 AQMD Committee meeting, the L.A. County Democratic Party presented a resolution urging a phase-out/ban.
The City of Long Beach (L.A. County's second largest city) has to date taken no position on the potential LB-impacting issue. In January, 2019, Mayor Robert Garcia (who doesn't set LB city policy) declined to sign a letter (requested by TRAA) urging a phase-out/ban on MHF (LBREPORT.com coverage here.) To date, no Long Beach Council member(s) (who set LB city policy) have agendized the issue for public discussion or a policy-setting vote.
AQMD staff's position was that if the refineries can't meet the MOU's "performance standards," AQMD could "pivot" to adopting a rule requiring a phase out of MHF. However the MOU directed by Refinery committee doesn't mention a potential phase out of MHF
AQMD staff recommended that a "performance standard" demonstrate MHF exposure levels with "mitigation measures" measured at the refinery fence line, not the "nearest permanent residential receptor" specified in the Refinery Committee's motion. Immediately prior to the vote, AQMD Exec. Officer Wayne Nasri cautioned motion-maker McCallon that as phrased, his motion would allow ten times the exposure level of MHF for one minute that AQMD staff had recommended, to which McCallon responded "that's my motion."
TRAA objected to the "performance standard" recommended by AQMD staff and approved (in somewhat different form) by the Refinery Committee majority, opposing its inclusion of both "active" [human, mechanical or electrical triggered] as well as "passive" [no intervention by person or powered devices] as ample "mitigation-if-released" measures. TRAA argued that it's inappropriate to assume the effectiveness of "active" mitigation-if-released measures that might be rendered ineffective in catastrophic scenarios (earthquake, explosions and the like.
Representatives of the two refineries testified that their use of the chemical is safe and described multiple safety systems in place at their respective facilities. Supporters of a phase out/ban said the consequences of a catastrophic release make it too risky to continue to allow the continued use of MHF. LBREPORT.com provides access to VIDEO of the full meeting below
MHF is brought to both facilities by tanker trucks that travel along area freeways. Valero's rep indicated its trucks arrive roughly twice a month. [The trucks don't include refinery-level "mitigation-if-released" systems if their tanks loaded with MHF were ruptured.]
Rich Walsh, Sr. VP and Deputy General Counsel for Valero's Wilmington refinery cited multiple systems at the plant that he said are designed and engineered to contain and respond if MHF is released.
In a colloquy with Supervisor Hahn, Mr. Walsh said that while MHF has toxicity elements but argued it's not like "some flesh eating cloud that's going to crawl through like The Blob, that narrative is really inaccurate to HF. HF is actually a much less problematic chemical than that. Yes, it has the qualities that it can be absorbed through your skin. It is a scavenger for calcium, that's why we use calcium gluconate for it. It has toxcitity elements; that's why it's a toxic chemical. If it wasn't toxic, we wouldn't have our mitigation systems over it to protect it. I don't want to leave the impression that it's wonderful and everyone should suntan with it. I'm trying to explain here that you have to put these things in a relative risk basis...It's not inconsistent to stand up here and say this chemical is not as toxic as is being portrayed and it is still toxic and yes we can say it's safe because we do have the designed mitigation systems to do it and will even take severe consequence scenarios that are improbably and model them to show that it is going to be safe and protective so we won't have a Bhopal type situation...We have to learn to manage risk in a reasoned way or we'll make irrational economic decisions or irrational public policy decisions."
In previous meetings, AQMD staff indicated that converting the refineries to use a safer chemical (sulfuric acid, used at all other CA refineries) would be costly but with manageable costs for the two refineries while acknowledging the Valero Wilmington plant had space constraints. Neither of the two refineries have said flatly if MHF were phased out that their facilities would close rather than convert. However at the June 22 Committee meeting, Mr. Walsh said converting Valero's Wilmington refinery to use sulfuric acid is problematic because it "has very limited space" and "[w]e would literally have to shut down, remove everything, put it back in and you're talking about costs that are over the value of the refinery as a whole." He added "You can really disable and/or foreclose the use of the refinery by trying to phase out, especially if there's no economic alternative, and you might not even be able to permit the sulfuric [acid alternative.]." He added that no refinery has ever converted between [HF and sulfuric acid.]"
TRAA's Jim Eninger, PhD, stated the group's position in pertinent part:
A Performance Standard must be designed to protect the community, not tailored to what the refineries are able to meet with enhanced mitigation...Both the refineries and the AQMD Staff envision HF releases where pipes break, but limit them to small one- and two-inch-diameter pipes. The February 18, 2015 explosion at the Torrance refinery hurled a 40-ton object at the settler tanks that nearly ripped off far larger pipes. All of the HF would have been released in less than a minute. We respectfully implore you to direct the Staff to include breaks in any size pipe, no matter what the size.
Sally Hiyati, PhD, agreed with the Supervisor Hahn that the time allocation was unfair and said the groups did ask for more than 20 minutes and urging the Committee to "please ask questions" [so she could make additional points.] Only two Committee members did so: Hahn and Mitchell. In her testimony, Dr. Hiyati stated her position:
Organized labor representatives were collecively given five minutes to speak and supported the continued use of MHF under an MOU.
Individual members of the public were given one minute each to speak. Workers at the two refineries supported the continued use of MHF under an MOU, voicing concern over a possible loss of their jobs. On April 20, 2018, the politically powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor -- whose PAC endorsement is eagerly sought by candidates seeking re-election or higher offices (most recently now-state Senator Lena Gonzalez) -- submitted written comments opposing a ban on MHF. "There has been no finding that MHF presents a risk to communities surrounding the refineries," wrote the group's then-president, now-newly elected Chair of the CA Democratic Party, Rusty Hicks. (His 2018 letter on behalf of the LB Labor Federation can be viewed in full here.
Other groups testifying in opposition to a phase-out/ban of MHF and supporting its continued use under an MOU included a number of business organizations, including the LB Area Chamber of Commerce. Also supporting the refineries continued use of MHF were representatives of non-profits that acknowledged receiving financial support from the refineries (including the Boys and Girls Clubs of LB.)
The only LB speaker urging a phase-out/ban on MHF was Anna Christensen, a frequent LB advocate against oil interests, speaking for LB Group of the Sierra Club. Ms. Christensen said [paraphrase] AQMD's job isn't to protect companies but to protect the public's health.
MFH consists of roughly 93-94% Hydrofluoric acid (HF). Scientists and AQMD staff have indicated in AQMD proceedings that on release, HF has been shown in a scientific study to form an expanding ground-hugging cloud. It doesn't dissipate upward; instead it travels over distances in whichever direction the prevailing wind might send it and dissipating gradually over distance. The Power Point slides below are from AQMD staff:
During a Feb. 1, 2019 AQMD Board meeting, AQMD staff included a video clip (below) from 1986 tests conducted by scientists to document and measure an HF release (before MHF was invented.) The tests showed that a golf-ball size hole (1.65") released 1,000 gallons of HF within 2 minutes. Once released and produced an HF ground hugging cloud that didn't disperse upward but rapidly expanded at breathing height (below 8 feet.) It traveled at the recorded wind speed of 18 feet per second, and under those conditions, in less than 10 minutes the corrosive toxic cloud traveled up to two miles. Within that distance, scientists measured HF at roughly double lethal (likely to cause death) levels.
AQMD acknowledged that this was an "unmitigated" release and the two refineries have certain "mitigation measures" on site, but noted that those systems, like others, can fail (as a different system did that caused the 2015 Torrance explosion and "near miss") and such failures can cascade in natural disasters (earthquakes) or with deliberate acts.
The video clip from the 1986 test shows the released HF forming the rapidly spreading, ground hugging traveling cloud. The video clip is included in on-demand VIDEO of AQMD staff's full Feb. 1 presentation, followed by public testimony, AQMD board discussion and voted action) which can be viewed here (Video of the 1986 HF test starts at 1:43:40.)
At the Feb. 1, 2019 AQMD governing board meeting, AQMD staff delivered a PPT presentation that provided an overview of the issues. Some of its salient slides are below.
A few months earlier at a Sept. 22, 2018 AQMD board meeting in Wilmington (attended by over 800 people with no visible presence or participation of LB Councilmembers or city staff), Dr. Ronald Koopman, PhD/PE (retired Manager/Sr. Scientist Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 36 years) testified that in the 1986 HF test, the ground hugging HF cloud's concentrations would mean likely deaths within 2.9 miles and serious health effects within 4.4 miles from the release site.
Dr. Koopman acknowledged that he's unaware of tests with data on releases of MHF (HF plus a modifier added to dilute it) and said he is unclear how much modification of HF's behavior the addition of the MFH modifier produces but said with a 6% concentration of modifier (such as that used at the Wilmington and Torrance refineries) he "would guess that would be a very small effect."
In contrast, the Torrance refinery contends 50% of MHF will "rainout" (fall to the ground.)
AQMD staff's position has been that MHF provides some but uncertain benefits over pure HF, at most a 35% benefit but likely less, and thus using MHF instead of HF doesn't provide adequate safety for workers and community. [Source: AQMD Feb. 1, 2019 board meeting, staff PPT slide 19] AQMD staff says HF and MHF both create similar concerns, calling the ability of MHF to prevent formation of a vapor/aerosol cloud "highly uncertain"; noting the release of MHF will result in exposure to HF with same health effects; any "rainout" from MHF will be HF in liquid droplets; an HF vapor cloud will still form; and HF and MHF have the same hazards and medical treatment. [Source: AQMD Feb. 1, 2019 board meeting, staff PPT slide 22]
At the Feb. 1, 2019 AQMD board meeting, AQMD staff stated that based on its review of technical documents and discussions with the Torrance Refinery, it believes MHF provides some but uncertain benefits, at most a 35% benefit but likely less. Staff acknowledged that no testing has been conducted at current operating conditions (additive, concentration, pressure, and temperature) and most of the data about MHF isn't publicly available [see below chronology re technology developer]. AQMD staff indicated it's been stymied in obtaining information regarding MHF's performance as a mitigation measures.
AQMD staff stated that in its view, using MHF instead of HF doesn't provide adequate safety for workers and community. [Source: AQMD Feb. 1, 2019 board meeting, staff PPT slide 19] It indicated that it believes that HF and MHF both create similar concerns, calling the "ability of MHF to prevent formation of a vapor/aerosol cloud "highly uncertain"; noting the release of MHF will result in exposure to HF with same health effects; any "rainout" from MHF will be HF in liquid droplets; an HF vapor cloud will still form; and HF and MHF have the same hazards and medical treatment. [Source: AQMD Feb. 1, 2019 board meeting, staff PPT slide 22]
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