USW Criticizes Absence of Elected Officials at Community Forum on Hydrogen Fluoride

Contact: Jim Lefton, USW Sub-director, (o) 832-556-0370, (cell) 615-545-0847
             Lynne Baker, USW Communications, (o) 615-831-6782, (cell) 615-828-6169

Corpus Christi—The United Steelworkers Union (USW) is asking why elected officials from Corpus Christi did not appear at a community forum Nov. 11 to discuss the dangers of using hydrogen fluoride (HF) in area refineries and its alternatives.

“Their failure to appear at this forum is especially disheartening since a serious refinery accident in July that involved a fire and HF release left one worker fighting for his life,” said Jim Lefton, sub-director of USW District 13. “Residents around the refineries wondered why city and county officials deserted them.”

The USW sent letters two weeks in advance to the mayor, city council, county judge, county commissioners, the Port of Corpus Christi chairman and vice chairman, port commissioners, state senator, sheriff, fire chief, police chief and the Local Emergency Planning Committee administrator. Congressman Ortiz was the only official to send a representative to the forum. Congressman Henry Cuellar, Councilman Brent Chesney, Councilwoman Neil Martinez and County Commissioner Betty Jean Longoria were the only officials who bothered to RSVP.

“Elected officials and emergency responders should be concerned about the use of HF at Corpus Christi refineries,” Lefton said. “According to the refineries’ own data, as of September 2009, a large HF release could cover approximately 17 miles and pose disastrous health effects for thousands of people.”

“This is an unacceptable risk to the community because cost-effective, safe alternatives are available. This is vital information the officials would have learned had they bothered to attend,” Lefton said.

The USW and its local union at Citgo’s refinery are demanding safer processes and better hazard disclosure at refineries in Corpus Christi and nationwide.

Hydrogen fluoride is an acid used as a catalyst in the alkylation unit to make high-octane petroleum and is deadly in large amounts. The chemical turns into hydrofluoric acid when it is in contact with moisture and becomes an extremely corrosive liquid and contact poison that burns skin, tissue and eyes. It can damage the heart and lungs and cause death. Under the right conditions, a large release could form a lethal plume of acid vapors and extend for miles downwind, putting thousands at risk. Solid-state catalysts offer a safer alternative.

 “There have been too many HF releases at refineries across the country this past year,” Lefton said. “Corpus Christi was fortunate that the July HF release at Citgo’s refinery was not larger. Next time the city might not be so lucky.”

The USW is the largest industrial union in North America and has 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. It represents workers employed in metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, atomic energy and the service sector.

To see a list of refinery events that includes leaks, fires and other accidents go to www.oilbargaining.org.

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