The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Health Hazardous Materials Division (HHMD) continues to investigate issues in connection with the February explosion at the Exxon Mobil Torrance Refinery, according to HHMD Chief Bill Jones.
The explosion occurred at about 9 a.m. Feb. 18 at the facility at 3700 190th St. in the City of Torrance, damaging air pollution equipment filled with a finely divided powdered catalyst. This catalyst was released into the air and spread into the area surrounding the refinery. In addition, the blast damaged other refinery process equipment, causing petroleum hydrocarbons to be vented to flares that were visible with significant smoke. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation and has not yet been determined.
Despite the size of the blast, only minor injuries were reported by four outside contractors working near the site of the explosion.
Some of the issues that were investigated and continue to be evaluated by HHMD included radioactive sources, asbestos, gas leaks, catalyst containing heavy metals, offsite consequences, public notifications, sampling and sampling results, and enforcement options, Jones said.
Additionally, Jones is a member of the Governor’s Interagency Refinery Task Force (IRTF), which will examine the incident in detail to determine if regulations or statutes could have prevented the incident or improved the response to the explosion.
Testifying March 5 at a Joint Oversight hearing of the California Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications and Environmental Quality committees, Jones addressed the regulatory structure over refineries, the roles and responsibilities of ancillary response agencies and personnel, the challenges of this particular response and what will be done to improve the response.
In his second presentation, Jones testified on the formation of the IRTF and the efforts moving forward to address not only the regulatory enhancements underway, but also the efforts to improve emergency response and preparedness by local air, hazardous materials, fire and other agencies.