Action Needed on Hydrofluoric Acid at Refineries

June 20, 2019

Explosions at two petroleum refineries in 2015 and 2018 resulted in a high level of alarm in the neighboring communities about the possibility of releases of clouds of hydrofluoric acid (HF) or modified HF (MHF) into those communities. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) investigated both incidents and also held public meetings to report its findings and listen to community concerns. The CSB subsequently wrote an April 2019 letter to the EPA recommending that the Agency review its 1993 report to Congress on the potential hazards HF and MHF pose to public health and the environment and also determine whether there are safer alternatives to HF and MHF in petroleum refining.  Toxic by Contact and Inhalation HF and MHF have many industrial applications. Sixty percent of HF and MHF is used to make refrigerants. In petroleum refining they serve as catalysts in a process called alkylation. The process adds high octane hydrocarbons to motor and aviation gasoline. High octane hydrocarbons are needed to help prevent autoignition of gasoline (knocking) in an engine and to meet recommended engine octane ratings. HF is used in about 50 of the nation’s approximately 150 refineries. HF and MHF are toxic by every route of exposure. They go easily and quickly through the skin and into the tissues in the body, damaging the cells and making them nonfunctional. Skin contact may also cause severe burns that develop after several hours and form skin ulcers

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