Removing hydrofluoric acid from damaged refinery

Article by Amanda Doyle

Philadelphia Energy Solutions

WORK has begun on removing 30,000 bbl of modified hydrofluoric acid at the damaged Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery.

A fire on 21 June caused substantial damage at the refinery, and PES later announced that it would permanently close the oil refinery and file for bankruptcy. The fire destroyed a 30,000 bbl/d unit that used hydrofluoric acid (HF) to process refined products. The acid can burn though skin and bone and exposure can be fatal. HF can form a fog at room temperature that can travel for kilometres, and according to Reuters, workers activated an emergency system that emptied the acid into a protective vessel to prevent this from happening.

It is still not clear what method will be used to remove the acid in the emergency vessel. Engineer and activist Sally Hayati told Reuters that due the volume of the reserves, it would be difficult to neutralise the HF on site, and will likely have to be moved before it can be neutralised. The emergency container can only hold the amount of acid that was dumped into it and does not have additional room for neutralising chemicals.

Reuters also reported that PES was expected to report to government officials that some HF might have been released, but sources told Reuters that it was unclear how much HF may have been released and if the report would become available to the public.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a letter earlier this year calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the use of HF in refineries.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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