Steve Early Reports from Torrance
In case you missed it, check out this thoughtful piece by Steve Early which appeared in Counterpunch. Steve was in Torrance, CA last month to speak at 350-person rally organized by Torrance Refinery Action on the third anniversary of a giant explosion at Exxon Mobil’s facility there. People were eager to hear about how Richmond is working to hold Chevron accountable for its pollution. His piece reflects on the continuing struggle to implement a just transition that provides both a cleaner, safer environment and keeps workers whole.
A Report From Torrance
Nothing ignites a local environmental justice campaign more quickly, in California, than a refinery fire or explosion affecting down-wind neighbors. Three years ago, an Exxon-Mobil facility was rocked by a huge explosion in Torrance, a city of 145,000 just south of Los Angeles.
According to a Justice Department lawsuit, the blast catapulted a 40-ton piece of equipment perilously close to a tank containing 50,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic and volatile chemical, used, with additives, in only two California refineries. If released in the air in large enough quantity, Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF) can form a ground-hugging cloud, able to drift for miles. Anyone exposed to it would suffer choking, searing of the eyes and lungs, internal organ damage or possible death.
When the U.S. Chemical Safety Board tried to investigate this “serious near miss,” Exxon-Mobil balked at supplying data on cost-cutting measures that may have contributed to the accident or the health impact of showering Torrance residents with so much chemical ash. Some citizens filed a private lawsuit citing “numerous fires, leaks, explosions, and other releases of dangerous pollutants” in “an outdated refinery” located “in a densely populated area.” State regulators issued 19 citations against the company and assessed fines of $565,000 for its February, 2015 explosion.
Meanwhile, the narrowly avoided release of a hazardous chemical led to formation of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. With growing local and regional support, the TRAA seeks to eliminate MHF use, in any form, at the Torrance refinery, now owned by BPF Energy, and a Valero refinery in Wilmington, CA.
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