Hydrofluoric Acid Leak at Citgo Plant

Monday, March 12, 2012 @ 03:03 PM gHale

A chemical leak this week at the Citgo East Refinery is under investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).

An apparent flange leak at the Citgo East Refinery’s alkylation unit released propane, butane, pentane and hydrofluoric acid, which is now under investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).

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An alkylation unit creates high-octane products for gasoline. The leak triggered the plant’s automatic water cannons, which spouted a curtain of water to contain the leak, plant spokesman Larry Elizondo said. The investigation is continuing.

“We are launching an investigation into this accident as we continue our investigation of the 2009 HF release event, because of the toxic nature of hydrofluoric acid and the need to keep it contained, or to mitigate the consequences of a release,” board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said. “Approximately 50 of the nation’s refineries still use (hydrogen fluoride) in their alkylation units, requiring great care in its handling.”

In July 2009, a sudden release of hydrocarbons and hydrofluoric acid from the unit ignited. The unit caught fire, critically injuring an employee.

Citgo reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that less than 30 pounds of hydrofluoric acid released from the unit’s piping and equipment and a water curtain confined the acid, according to the safety board.

However, the Chemical Safety Board’s investigators determined Citgo nearly exhausted the stored water supply for the water cannon system, which caused the refinery to begin pumping salt water as a backup.

In December 2009, the board recommended Citgo immediately improve emergency water mitigation systems in case of another release of hydrogen fluoride and perform third-party audits to ensure the safety of its units. Citgo met those requirements in 2011.

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