Issue Date: July 27, 2009
Citgo Fire Under Investigation
The Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is beginning an investigation of a July 19 fire at a Citgo refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. The early-morning accident seriously injured one worker and sent fireballs high into the sky, according to accounts. It occurred in the hydrofluoric alkylation unit, a part of the plant that uses hydrogen fluoride to produce alkylate, an additive that enhances octane in premium gasoline. Some refineries use sulfuric acid, rather than hydrogen fluoride, to drive the alkylation process. The Sierra Club and a local group, Citizens for Environmental Justice, have petitioned CSB to consider inherently safer design as part of its root-cause investigation and examine the possibility of swapping sulfuric acid for hydrogen fluoride because of HF's toxicity. Aqueous hydrofluoric acid, in liquid or vapor form, can cause severe burns that may not be immediately visible or painful, yet may become fatal. Citgo officials issued a brief statement after the accident and told C&EN they were unsure of its cause as of July 22. CSB has four investigators at the plant site but has not made a final decision whether to fully investigate the accident.
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