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HF release at Joliet refinery investigated

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 11 -- The US Chemical Safety Board has sent an investigative team to ExxonMobil Corp.’s 240,000-b/d Joliet, Ill., refinery following an Aug. 6 propane and hydrogen fluoride release there. It was the third HF release CSB has investigated this year, CSB Chairman John S. Bresland said.

“We are concerned about the three apparent releases of hydrogen fluoride from refinery alkylation units in Pennsylvania, Texas, and now Illinois that have been reported since March 2009. Because of its high toxicity, any loss of primary containment for hydrogen fluoride is a serious matter,” he said.

CSB has investigators examining a July 19 HF release at Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s 156,800 b/d Corpus Christi, Tex., refinery. It said that a similar incident occurred on Mar. 9 at Sunoco Inc.’s 330,000-b/d Philadelphia refinery.

The incident at ExxonMobil’s Joliet plant occurred around 12:30 pm CDT when HF and propane suddenly leaked from the refinery’s alkylation unit, according to CSB.

It said the leak did not ignite, but one operator was transported to the hospital suffering from what were described as serious, HF-related chemical burns, and was initially reported in critical condition. A second operator was examined at the hospital and released.

CSB said the unit’s water deluge system, which is designed to contain airborne HF releases, was activated, and the alkylation unit was shut down as refinery employees sought shelter.

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