Oil industry documents filed with the federal government reveal that an accidental release of a lethal chemical used in 50 aging refineries across the country could prove devastating, with 16 million Americans living within range of toxic plumes that could spread for miles.
There are safer alternatives for the chemical hydrofluoric acid, which is used to make high-grade gasoline, but the industry has resisted calls to stop using it. An industry spokesman told ABC News it would not be feasible to retrofit the refineries to use the safer approach. Federal officials tell ABC News, however, that the real impediment may be money– estimating it would cost about $50 million for the companies to upgrade each plant.
According to the industry’s worst-case scenario documents, a release of the chemical could endanger entire communities.
As the nation’s 150 refineries have aged, there have been an increasing number of fatal, or near-fatal, incidents. In the last two years alone, there have been 29 fires and explosions at refineries that use the deadly chemical, including at least three potentially dangerous releases of hydrofluoric acid. And 32 refineries that use hydrofluoric acid have amassed more than 1,000 willful, serious or repeat safety violations in the last five years.
http://www.publicintegrity.org/articles/entry/2935/ to read the Center for Public Integrity’s story on oil refineries.