No Danger with TX Refinery Release

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 @ 01:02 PM gHale

A release of sulfur dioxide Jan. 11 after a valve malfunction at the Western Refining refinery in El Paso, TX, did not pose any danger to nearby residents, officials said.

Western Refining said the valve malfunction was to blame for the emissions incident, which lasted seven hours.

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“It’s leaking some of these things like carbon monoxide, hydrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and various other things,” said Dr. Russell R. Chianelli, a UTEP chemistry professor. “Most of these things, if they were up in the air in gases, would dissipate and not threaten any of the people.”

Western Refining spokesman Gary Hanson said the gases ended up “diverted to the flare, which is about 400 feet up in the air.”

Flaring is the fail-safe safety procedure for refineries. “We add steam to it and about 98 percent of what was released combusted as it went into the air,” Hanson said, adding the yellow plume was “practically harmless.”

Hanson said Western Refining spoke with neighboring residents to confirm. “We didn’t have any reports of any issues or problem,” Hanson said.

The exact cause of the event that triggered the emissions is under investigation.

“Once we find the issue, then we look at the rest of the process and say ‘okay, are there other places where this could be a problem?'” Hanson said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will now launch its own investigation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also confirmed it opened an investigation into the matter.

Western Refining issued its final report on the incident to TCEQ and it said sulfur dioxide released along with other contaminants like hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds.

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