Regional air pollution watchdog released long-awaited draft plan presented by the Valero Wilmington refinery to monitor emissions harmful to the environment and human health and invites the public to comment until February 6 on the adequacy of the proposal
The South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted the rule requiring monitoring of approximately 20 chemicals at the seven South Bay refineries in November 2017 and has worked on its implementation since then by holding in-depth meetings with the community and industry officials. Plans proposed at refineries in Torrance, El Segundo, Carson and Wilmington must be finalized and approved by the agency before monitoring begins on January 1 at the latest.
The AQMD has asked refineries to start monitoring excess emissions and chemicals that factories may release in surrounding neighborhoods and communities, largely to provide more information to the public. No local refinery currently uses a fence monitoring system.
The AQMD’s action came in response to a deluge of public complaints about excessive flaring, which can produce tall columns of sweltering black smoke visible for miles and can cause respiratory and other health problems. . The problem was particularly acute at Torrance in 2016-2017 when emissions of several pollutants from refineries repeatedly exceeded allowable limits, observed the AQMD.
Other refineries, including Torrance, submitted their plans last month.
Valero’s plan calls for the 135,000 barrel refinery to install three monitoring stations along the refinery perimeter.
Although the refinery is surrounded by industrial sites, there are also eight schools within 2,500 meters of the refinery, according to the draft plan. The nearest houses are about 800 meters from the factory.
A weather station will also be installed to measure wind speed and direction, so the community will know which neighborhoods could be affected by chemical emissions and discharges.
The fence monitoring system uses what is called open path technology to take air samples.
This involves monitoring stations that project a beam of light along a path that measures the average concentration of pollutants.
Jesse Marquez, executive director of Wilmington-based Communities for a Safe Environment, who plans to submit a comment letter to AQMD on the fence monitoring plan on behalf of a coalition of a dozen environmental organizations and communities, called the proposed system “unacceptable.”
“The draft plan does not describe the types and methods of delivering public notification (if published),” he said via email. “The public wants the fastest notification of an immediate danger to their health and life.”
Valero officials did not respond to multiple messages left at its Texas headquarters and the local refinery seeking comment.
Some of the 20 or so chemical refineries responsible for monitoring already have separate and extensive systems capable of detecting them for safety reasons.
For example, refineries were required to install a benzene monitoring system in January.
The Valero and Torrance refineries, the only two in the state to use highly toxic hydrofluoric acid, also have several emergency monitoring and safety systems for the chemical.
Both use a modified version of HF containing an additive designed to reduce the size of the toxic cloud on the ground – but not its toxicity – that occurs when the chemical is accidentally released. AQMD officials have said that the level of concentration used by refineries provides additional “certain, but uncertain” safety benefits.
In a separate report released before Friday’s Air Quality District Board of Directors meeting, the agency said there had been five releases of HF at the two refineries since 2017, including three at Torrance in the past two months.
The two refineries together store about 100,000 gallons of HF, and the AQMD said a two-inch hole in a tank could release 1,000 gallons of the chemical in just two minutes. Tests have shown that a release of 1,000 gallons can lead to lethal concentrations of the chemical for two miles, the agency said.
About 245,000 people live within three miles of the Torrance refinery and 153,000 others live within three miles of the Valero refinery.
The agency is formulating a rule to phase out the use of the chemical if it cannot be demonstrated to AQMD officials that the risk to the public can be reduced to an acceptable level through measures. additional security. The proposed rule will be discussed again on Friday.
The safety of hydrofluoric acid has been the subject of public debate at local, regional and state levels since a major explosion in February 2015 literally rocked Torrance, shut the plant down and spiked gas prices when the refinery belonged to ExxonMobil. New Jersey-based PBF Energy announced in September 2015 that it had reached an agreement to purchase the refinery.
A subsequent report from the US Chemical Safety Board said the explosion almost led to a catastrophic release of the toxin that could have killed or injured thousands of people when a 40-ton piece of debris nearly fell on a tank containing of HF, urging activists to call for a ban on its use.
The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, an advocacy group that has called for a local ban on the use of HF, criticized the draft similar plan released by AQMD for the Torrance plant that does not call for HF monitoring of the fence.
“Each refinery boundary should have HF monitors providing full coverage at the fence so that no HF plumes can drift undetected,” TRAA co-founder Sally Hayati said via email.
Still, officials at PBF Energy have said they plan to follow the new rule when it is passed by AQMD.
“We are monitoring the modified hydrofluoric acid and we intend to comply with Rule 1180,” said PBF Energy spokeswoman Gesuina Lafayette, referring to the official number of the AQMD rule requiring monitoring of the fencing.
Written comments on Valero’s draft plan can be submitted by email to Rule1180@aqmd.gov or mailed to Dr Andrea Polidori, Atmospheric Measurements Manager, South Coast Air Quality Management District, 21865 Copley Drive, Diamond Bar CA 91765.