Refinery fires raise concerns about hydrogen fluoride use

Texans who live near refineries might be forced to evacuate when they have fires or explosions if the refineries use hydrogen fluoride. This toxic chemical can cause lung damage and destroy tissue down to the bones of people who are exposed to a gas plume from an explosion or fire.

A recent series of explosions and fires at a refinery in Superior, Wisconsin illustrates the dangers of using hydrogen fluoride in gas refineries. The chemical is used during the alkalinization process in 50 refineries in the U.S. out of 148. The other refineries use sulfuric acid instead because it does not have the potential to be released in a gas cloud during explosions or fires.

In the Superior refinery fire, the tanker that contains hydrogen fluoride was not breached. However, workers are cooling the tank and trying to keep the flames from reaching it. The fire is located approximately 150 feet away from the tank. If the tank is breached, the community will have to be evacuated. Superior has approximately 27,000 residents. To rebuild the refinery in a way to convert it to using sulfuric acid instead of hydrogen fluoride would cost an estimated $50 million to $150 million, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Construction and refinery accidents can be dangerous. When there is a fire or explosion in a refinery, the residents who live nearby may be forced to evacuate. People who are exposed to toxic gas clouds from refinery explosions may suffer serious injuries or may be killed. People who are injured in such accidents might want to consult with personal injury attorneys who are experienced in accidents involving construction sites and gasoline refineries to protect their rights to recovery.

Source: MPR News, "Chemical raises concerns in wake of Superior refinery explosion, fire," Danielle Kaeding, April 30, 2018.

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