After Superior blaze, fears over chemicals used at St. Paul Park refinery

Hydrogen fluoride can be deadly when humans are exposed to it.
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The explosive fire at an oil refinery in Superior has prompted concerns from 2 Minneapolis lawmakers about at chemical they say has the potential to kill or injure hundreds of thousands of Twin Cities residents.

The raging blaze at the Husky Energy refinery last month this past week prompted calls from Twin Ports officials for the company to stop using hydrogen fluoride in its refining process.

The chemical was stored just 200 feet away from an asphalt tank that exploded, and the leak of it could potentially have caused a toxic chemical cloud putting the lives of up to 180,000 Northlanders at risk.

It's promoted Minneapolis DFLers Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble to raise questions over the use of the same chemical at the oil refinery in St. Paul Park, in a letter sent to Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman and Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine.

They are calling on the commissioners to ask Marathon Oil – the new owners of the St. Paul Park facility – end its use of hydrogen fluoride in favor of safer industry alternatives, such as sulphuric acid.

"As is the case with Superior facility, the Marathon refinery is located in a densely populated area," the lawmakers wrote. "This creates the potential for a large-scale disaster in a scenario which includes the type of explosion and fire that took place at Husky Energy."


– SuperAmerica chain, St. Paul Park refinery sold in $23B deal.

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Risk to '1.7 million' in the Twin Cities

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that exposure to hydrogen fluoride can cause death from either an irregular heartbeat or the buildup of fluid in the lungs.

Exposure causes major internal injuries, and long-term, non-fatal effects can include blindness, chronic lung disease and severe scarring from burns.

The Star Tribune reported on Sunday that the EPA estimates 1.7 million metro area residents living within a 19-mile radius of the St. Paul Park refinery could be at risk of injury or death in a "worse case scenario" hydrogen fluoride leak.

The newspaper notes that there has not been a leak of the chemical in the refinery's 80 year history.

Dibble and Hornstein however shared EPA data that suggests the refinery carries a risk level three times the average for other American refineries.

They have also asked the commissioners to provide information on evacuation and emergency response plans in the event of such a disaster in St. Paul.

Husky officials said after the Superior fire that its hydrogen fluoride storage tanks were not compromised in any way by the fire, noting that its procedures safeguarding the chemical worked as it should, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

The fire never reached the hydrogen fluoride, and on Friday Schade said that tank was "not compromised whatsoever" by the explosions or fire.

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