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Torrance Residents Concerned about the Continued Use of Hydrofluoric Acid at the Torrance Refinery and Its Impact on the Community

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Torrance residents fear continued use of hydrofluoric acid at Torrance Refinery endangers community

Torrance resident Isabel Douvan Schwartz said she worries about a major earthquake hitting her community, largely because of the impact it could have on the massive Torrance Refinery two miles from her home. The biggest concern is that the refinery continues to use the highly toxic chemical hydrofluoric acid to process fuel, a practice that Schwartz and other activists want to see stopped.

“If hydrofluoric acid or modified hydrofluoric acid is released, then it forms into a ground-hugging toxic cloud that travels with the wind,” Schwartz said. “It can cause death and permanent serious injury to those exposed to it.”

Schwartz was among dozens of demonstrators who held a rally at Columbia Park on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of an explosion at the then Exxon Mobil Refinery that injured four workers and in which debris from the blast hit near tanks containing hydrofluoric acid, according to federal regulators.

The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance organized the rally and argued that safer alternatives exist, and that many of the refineries in California no longer use hydrofluoric acid. Activists believe that the continued use of hydrofluoric acid at the refinery poses a significant risk to the local community.

PBF Energy, which purchased the refinery in 2016, issued a statement Saturday rebutting the activists’ accusations. “The cleaner-burning gasoline sold in California requires alkylate to comply with the most stringent tailpipe emissions requirements in the world. The Torrance Refinery has been safely and reliably manufacturing alkylate for transportation fuels using hydrogen fluoride (HF), including modified hydrogen fluoride (MHF), in its Alkylation Unit for more than 60 years, without any offsite impact.”

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On the refinery’s website, PBF Energy argues that Californians live in a state with strict environmental regulations, yet still can drive wherever they want in the vehicles of their choice “with the reassurance their local refineries produce the world’s cleanest-burning gasoline using process called alkylation.”

As regulators pointed out, the explosion in 2015 did not directly involve hydrofluoric acid but that debris came close to hitting tanks with the chemical inside. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, issued 19 citations against Exxon Mobil, most of which were classified as serious, for workplace safety and health violations. Exxon Mobil was fined $566,600.

Cal/OSHA found the company neglected to eliminate known hazardous conditions and “intentionally failed to comply with state safety standards,” likely resulting in workers being seriously injured or killed, according to the agency’s Department of Industrial Relations. Cal/OSHA also determined the company’s management knew the electrostatic precipitator — which exploded in 2015 — could explode during a flammable vapor leakage. A safety review in 2007 addressed concerns about the leakage, but the company failed to fix it, state regulators said.

Regulators at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board reviewed the explosion and found it was “preventable.”

“This is the ninth anniversary of what might have been a catastrophe,” said Jane Affonso, vice president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, at Saturday’s rally. “There was an explosion at the Torrance Refinery, which is right over there, and a big piece of equipment came within eight feet of the tank of hydrofluoric acid, and if it had hit it, many people would have died and been injured.”

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The continued use of hydrofluoric acid at the Torrance Refinery remains a highly debated and contested issue. Concerned residents and activists continue to urge for safer alternatives, highlighting the potential catastrophic consequences of an accident involving hydrofluoric acid. As the debate rages on, the safety of the community remains a paramount concern for Torrance residents.

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Additional Perspectives on the 2024 Eclipse: Views from the Moon and Earth’s Orbit

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Just over a week ago, millions of people gathered across North America to witness the awe-inspiring event of a total solar eclipse on April 8th, 2024. While the eclipse was a spectacular sight from the ground, it was even more magnificent when viewed from space. Earth-observing satellites such as GOES-16 captured stunning images of the moon’s shadow sweeping over our planet.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) also managed to capture a snapshot of the eclipse from the Moon. Unlike traditional Earth-based photographers, the LROC’s view was challenging to obtain due to the spacecraft’s line scanner cameras. However, in just 20 seconds, the LROC was able to capture the entire eclipse phenomenon.

NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory, located at LaGrange Point 1, provided a unique perspective of the eclipse from Earth orbit, capturing the entire event as it unfolded over the continent.

Eclipse as Experience

For many viewers, witnessing the eclipse meant traveling to various locations along the path of totality to get the best view. This path extended from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico to the northern Canadian provinces, allowing a significant portion of the U.S. to experience totality. Fortunately, the weather cooperated in most places, allowing people to witness and share the eclipse on social media.

A composite of images taken during the total solar eclipse showing all the phases leading up to and after totality. NASA/Keegan Barber.
A composite of images taken during the total solar eclipse showing all the phases leading up to and after totality. NASA/Keegan Barber.

I was fortunate to witness the eclipse from a cruise ship off the coast of Mazatlán, Mexico, alongside a group of astronomers. Despite a few clouds, the view of the eclipsed Sun was breathtaking. As the shadow approached, the temperature dropped, and we were treated to 4 minutes and 20 seconds of totality.

A projection of the partially eclipsed Sun on the stack of a cruise ship off the coast of Mazatlan. Image credit: Carolyn Collins Petersen.
A projection of the partially eclipsed Sun on the stack of a cruise ship off the coast of Mazatlan. Image credit: Carolyn Collins Petersen.

However, some regions were only able to witness darkened clouds, while others outside the path of totality experienced a partial view. Despite this, many people utilized eclipse glasses or pinhole projection methods to observe the partial phases of the eclipse.

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Eclipse from the Air

Those fortunate enough to fly during the eclipse had a unique opportunity to extend their experience by taking a jet plane along the path of totality. Flight-tracking apps recorded a surge in traffic along the eclipse’s path, with several airlines offering special flights for passengers to witness this rare event.

A pilot flying a WB-57 jet during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.
NASA/Mallory Yates
A pilot flying a WB-57 jet during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. Credit: NASA/Mallory Yates

Moreover, an intrepid NASA jet pilot managed to capture a mesmerizing view of the eclipse from within the shadow. In space, astronauts aboard the International Space Station were treated to a stunning sight of the umbra and penumbra passing over the maritime provinces of Canada.

A view of the eclipse shadow from the International Space Station. Courtesy NASA.
A view of the eclipse shadow from the International Space Station. Courtesy NASA.

Future Eclipses

The unforgettable 2024 eclipse has left many yearning for more such experiences, but the next one in this region will occur in 2045. Until then, there are several upcoming total solar eclipses, lunar, and annular events. The years 2026, 2027, and 2028 will bring totalities to parts of Europe, Egypt, and Australia. Detailed information about upcoming eclipses, including safe viewing practices and live broadcasts, can be found on sites like Mr. Eclipse and NASA’s dedicated eclipse page.

For More Information

2024 Eclipse as Seen From The Moon
The April 8 Total Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA

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