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Fire at refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas

21 July 2009

A four-member investigative team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is en route to the site of a fire that began on the morning of the 19th July, at the Citgo refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. The fire broke out in the hydrogen fluoride (HF) alkylation unit, which makes high-octane gasoline components, that can be blended with motor and aviation fuel. The blaze occurred after workers responded to a leak associated with the unit.

Fire at refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas
Fire at refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas

The fire was contained by the Fire Department about an hour after the fire broke out at about 8.30 a.m, and lasted for hours. The alkylation unit was reported to be shut down.

One worker was seriously injured and airlifted to a burn centre in San Antonio as a result of the accident. There is no evidence of injuries due to hydrofluoric acid, but the amount of HF released needs to be determined.

The CSB can may look at the Sunday fire alone or do a detailed probe of safety operations at the Corpus Christi refinery, as it did at BP’s giant Texas City, Texas, refinery following a deadly 2005 explosion.
The refinery is owned by Citgo, a refining and marketing subsidiary in the United States of the state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela. The facility produces 163,000 barrels of oil per day.

Hydrofluoric acid can have a variety of affects in humans including burns, heart and breathing problems and damage to bones. It is possible for alkylation to be performed using a milder chemical, Sulphuric acid, which raises the question about whether refineries should use sulphuric acid instead of hydrogen fluoride, in an attempt to reduce the magnitude of consequences in incidents such as this.

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