2015 ExxonMobil Blast Dodged Catastrophe | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 94 Issue 4 | p. 25 | Concentrates
Issue Date: January 25, 2016

2015 ExxonMobil Blast Dodged Catastrophe

Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: Chemical Safety Board, ExxonMobil, refinery, accident

Multiple process safety management errors led to a potentially calamitous accident at a Southern California ExxonMobil refinery last February, the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) found in a preliminary report. Two workers were injured when leaking hydrocarbons exploded in an electrostatic precipitator, part of the facility’s air pollution control systems, said CSB Chair Vanessa Allen Sutherland. She presented CSB findings earlier this month at a meeting in Torrance, Calif., where the refinery is located. The accident could have been much worse, she said. The explosion sent debris flying, and one piece narrowly missed a tank containing thousands of kilograms of hydrofluoric acid. Had the debris hit the tank, Sutherland said, it could have ruptured, resulting in a catastrophic release of extremely toxic HF into the neighboring community of 33,000. “After HF acid vaporizes,” Sutherland explained, “it condenses into small droplets that form a dense low-lying cloud that will travel along the ground for miles, causing severe damage to respiratory systems, skin, and bones of those who are exposed, potentially resulting in death.”

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