[New Orleans, LA] – Over one million people are at risk from the Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) in use at Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette Refining, and new information released today reveals that the refinery uses more of the deadly acid – 2.4 million pounds - in a single process than any refinery in the country.
The information about the use of HF was provided by the Washington, D.C. based group Community Right to Know. Exxon Mobil uses safer alternatives at other facilities, but not in Chalmette. “I would like Exxon Mobil to do the same as they did in Torrance, California and use a different, safer product,” said Kenneth Ford, President of St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality who lives across the street from the refinery. “We know it’s dangerous, and it’s uncomfortable to live nearby.”
According to Exxon Mobil’s own information, people within 25 miles of the refinery – including Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish - could be at risk of injury or death in the case of an accident or attack on the refinery. “At a time when the nation is spending millions of dollars on Homeland Security, Exxon Mobil should do their part by reducing the chemical risk from their refinery,” said Darryl Malek Wiley, Chair of the New Orleans Group of the Sierra Club. Mr. Malek Wiley has worked on chemical plant safety and pollution issues in Louisiana for over 20 years.
The groups today are coalescing to urge Exxon Mobil in Chalmette to phase out Hydrofluoric Acid because of a united concern for residents in the four parishes. A web site and public pressure campaign are being launched to influence Exxon Mobil officials, who have to date refused requests to create a phase out plan. “No risk that is preventable is acceptable, and Exxon Mobil facilities can easily prevent this risk,” said Rick Hind of Greenpeace.
Among the cost effective alternatives to HF are sulfuric acid and modified hydrofluoric acid. The modified HF was patented by Mobil and is in use at other Exxon Mobil facilities. Residents of St. Bernard Parish first asked Exxon Mobil to phase out hydrofluoric acid in 1991, and were told in writing by company officials that “any improvements made as a result of Mobil or industry research that are applicable will be made in Chalmette.” “Exxon Mobil made $21.5 billion dollars in profit in 2003,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “They can afford the safer alternative.”
Thirteen years after its initial promise, the company has not acted, and community members are pointing to the double standards of using the chemical in some locations but not in Chalmette. “It is unacceptable that this oil refinery continue to needlessly threaten so many people’s lives across New Orleans,” said Aaron Viles, Gulf States Field Director with U.S. PIRG’s New Orleans office. “ExxonMobil has developed safer technologies, but has failed to implement them here and take the public out of harm’s way.”
The refineries’ use of such a large amount of HF has gained national attention. "Once again Exxon Mobil has been caught operating on the cheap at the expense of the health and safety of their neighbors," said Denny Larson of the National Refinery Reform Campaign. "The refinery's continued use of hydrofluoric acid is a clear disaster threat of national proportions and requires urgent action."
In 1986, several petrochemical companies (including Mobil) conducted a simulated release of Hydrofluoric Acid in the Nevada desert. The test was designed to simulate a release from a refinery. The results were more dangerous than the engineers anticipated. “Lethal concentrations of hydrofluoric acid aerosol were present up to 5 miles (8 km) from the release points, at levels much higher than anticipated.” (Needless Risk, US PIRG, p. 10)
Community groups in St. Bernard and Orleans Parish asked Exxon Mobil to phase out the deadly acid in October of 2003. In a letter to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade dated December 26, 2003, Exxon Mobil said that its “water wall” system would reduce the risk of hydrofluoric acid. Water mitigation systems have repeatedly come under fire by many experts in the field, including regulatory officials. The water systems can fail during power outages.
The information provided by Community Right to know comes from the Exxon Mobil Risk Management Plan (RMP). The RMP is difficult for the public to access, especially since 9/11, and Community Right to Know has provided the information to the community about Exxon Mobil’s total use of HF for the first time ever.
Eighty thousand people live within three miles of Chalmette’s Exxon Mobil Refinery; this population density at such close proximity is the greatest of any refinery community in Louisiana.
What: Press conference to release the new information, demand a phase out of HF, and launch web site
Where: 1300 Perdido, in front of City Hall in New Orleans
When: 11 AM, Tuesday, March 16th
St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality (SBCEQ) is a Chalmette based community group created to foster cooperation and communication among individuals and organizations to address environmental problems of Louisiana. www.environmentwatchdog.com
Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) is an environmental health and justice organization working with communities that neighbor the state’s oil refineries and chemical plants. The “bucket” is an EPA-approved, community friendly tool used to take air samples. www.labucketbrigade.org
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. U.S. PIRG, in association with state PIRGs in 28 states, conducts research and public education on public health, environmental, consumer, and democracy issues. Contact our Gulf States field office at 504.314.0773 or on the web at: http://uspirg.org/gulf
National Refinery Reform Campaign is an alliance of refinery neighbors working to clean up America's oil refineries. Over 162 million people live downwind of refineries in the US and are impacted by unnecessary pollution, accidents and inadequate regulation. www.refineryreform.org
Holy Cross Neighborhood Association is an active group of residents of the Holy Cross Neighborhood making the neighborhood a wonderful place to live. They preserve and create community spaces including community gardens and playgrounds. They also organize the neighborhood watch.
Greenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action. www.greenpeace.org
Sierra Club is one of the nations oldest environmental organizations founded in 1892. It goals are to explore, enjoy and protect the planet, for our families and our future.
WHAT: A coalition of seven organizations is turning up the heat on Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette Refining to phase out use of the deadly Hydrofluoric Acid (HF), which could harm over one million people in case of an accident or attack on the refinery.
The risk posed by HF is needless and preventable, as safer alternatives to the deadly acid exist.
Mobil patented a safer alternative of HF that is in use at some of their facilities around the country, but not in Chalmette. In 1991 the facility promised the community that they would consider the alternatives. So far, nothing has been done.
WHY: New information to be released tomorrow will show that the refinery uses more of the deadly acid in a single process than any refinery in the country.
According to Exxon Mobil’s own information, people within 25 miles of the refinery – including Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish - could be at risk of injury or death in the case of an accident or attack on the refinery.
WHERE: Steps of City Hall in New Orleans
1300 Perdido Street
WHEN: Tuesday, March 16th, 11 AM
WHO: Representatives of the seven groups will be there with visual props, including maps and colorful signs. Good photo opportunity to see groups of all kinds come together on an important issue!