Canton Repository

Aug. 5, 2005

Watchdog group claims local refinery poses terror hazard

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — A self-described watchdog group charged Thursday that the Marathon Ashland refinery in Canton, is among the 10 potentially ost dangerous refineries in the nation in the event of a worst-case scenario release of hydrofluoric acid.

In “Needless Risk: Oil Refineries and Hazard Reduction,” U.S. Public Interest Research Group criticized refineries for posing what it called unnecessary risks when it uses toxic chemicals that could be replaced by less dangerous alternatives.

The group said an accident or terrorist attack could trigger the release of hazardous chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid, with devastating results. Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had any immediate comment on the report.

Angelia Graves, a spokeswoman for Marathon Ashland, responded that safety is a priority for the company. She said there are numerous safeguards in place to minimize the effects of any release.

In compiling its report, PIRG said it used estimates of the impact of chemical releases that companies are required to submit to the U.S. EPA.

PIRG said according to EPA reports, the Canton refinery stores 238,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid, a chemical used in the production of different grades of gasoline. In a worst-case scenario, release of the acid could form a toxic aerosol cloud above the facility, threatening 940,000 people who live within 25 miles of the plant with injury or death, PIRG said.

Contact with hydrofluoric acid can cause serious burns; irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract; serious health problems or death, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Graves said a worst-case scenario is unlikely, since it assumes that all safety and mitigation equipment at the plant would fail.

“We have significant safeguards in place to detect (the acid),” she said. “We have video monitoring, we have water mitigation systems, we have various types of safety systems installed ... that minimize any type of potential release or impact.”

PIRG said companies could replace hydrofluoric acid with safer chemicals such as sulfuric acid or solid acid catalysts. The report urges Congress to pass legislation requiring companies to switch to safer technologies.

One of Marathon Ashland’s seven refineries does not use hydrofluoric acid, according to PIRG.

Graves said the company’s Detroit refinery uses sulfuric acid, not hydrofluoric acid, but she added that sulfuric acid could not be used in place of hydrofluoric acid in the equipment at the Canton refinery.

The refineries targeted by the group were: a Sunoco refinery in Philadelphia; Valero Refining Co. in Paulsboro, N.J.; PDV Midwest Refining (CITGO) in Lemont, Ill.; ConocoPhillips Trainer Refinery in Trainer, Pa.; Marathon Ashland’s St. Paul, Minn., refinery; Chalmette Refining in Chalmette, La.; Murphy Oil USA refinery in Meraux, La.; ExxonMobil Oil Corp.’s Joliet, Ill., refinery; Marathon Ashland’s Canton refinery; and the ConocoPhillips Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse, La.