Why the Marathon Refinery Strike Should Matter To Every Minnesotan
Two Words: Hydrofluoric Acid
It’s the most dangerous chemical you may never have heard of and its at the center of a massive strike at the Marathon Oil refinery in St. Paul Park MN: Hydrofluoric Acid.
Why does Hydrofluoric Acid matter? It’s highly toxic, it vaporizes in the air, it has the potential to be lethal miles away and its right in our backyard at the St. Paul Park refinery.
Hydrofluoric Acid has been banned in California and there are movements across the country to ban its use in refineries. A formal petition was filed with the EPA in 2019 to ban the use of the substance nationwide. According to the petition: “Such regulations are necessary to ensure that the highly toxic substance is no longer used in oil refineries, given its inherently dangerous nature, the occurrence of “near miss” accidents, the availability of safer alternatives…”
“The fluoride ion can enter the body, potentially interfering with calcium metabolism, which can cause death by cardiac arrest… When a person is exposed, pain and tissue damage does not manifest immediately and can be delayed for several hours… even exposure at a lethal level can often go unnoticed —as little as 25 square inches of exposure can be fatal.” The potential for exposure to go unnoticed can exacerbate by delaying necessary medical intervention.
The oil companies know this chemical is dangerous. A industry sponsored study conducted in 1986 concluded that the vaporized chemical would have be lethal to humans even miles away from the source.
The St. Paul Park refinery is one of the roughly 33% of refineries operating in the US currently using Hydrofluoric Acid in the refining process. Currently, the deadly chemical is being monitored and handled by workers who may not be familiar with the facility, may not be well trained, and may not be capable of identifying issues before they become catastrophic.
Even in the hands of trained professionals there have been several near miss incidents with the chemical in recent years. There were incidents at refineries in at least Torrence California, Phillidelphia PA, and of course Superior WI. The latter of which necessitated an evacuation of the surrounding area in 2018 after an explosion at the refinery.
According to workers on the picket line, one of the replacements working in the unit that handles the acid said he was a High School Shop Teacher making some extra money working during the strike. Without offending High School Teachers, I’d rather leave the handling of a chemical this deadly to the professionals.
Marathon’s actions to this point appear to completely disregard the risks posed by the chemical. According to the Union, because of the risk posed by Hydrofluoric Acid, they offered to return to work last night after further talks with Marathon were confirmed. The company reportedly denied access to the workers who are trained and familiar with the facility, trusting our safety instead to what may be a high school shop teacher.
Corporate Transparency Reporting