Minnesota City Seeking Study of Toxic Chemical After Refinery Blast

City leaders in Duluth, Minnesota, are taking steps to ensure that residents will be safe following the upcoming reconstruction of a refinery that exploded in neighboring Superior, Wisconsin.

The Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior was rocked last April by a huge blast and fire. The flying shrapnel narrowly missed a tank of hydrogen fluoride, a toxic chemical that can be deadly if inhaled.

Mel Duvall, a spokesman for Husky, noted in April that the rebuilt refinery will still use hydrogen fluoride after an examination determined that “alternatives were not commercially viable or introduced significant risks for the Superior Refinery.” The reconstruction will cost more than $400 million, Duvall said.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson called Husky’s choice to proceed with the use of hydrogen fluoride “unacceptable,” although she recognized her lack of authority to stop the company from moving forward with its plans.

“I do have a way to help impact whether or not the industry is going to continue to be supported in making that choice,” she said.

Superior Mayor Jim Paine also rebuked Husky for its plan to still use hydrogen fluoride. Duluth and Superior lie adjacent to each other on the southwestern tip of Lake Superior, separated only by the mouth of the St. Louis River.

The Duluth City Council will vote Monday on a resolution that would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to examine hydrogen fluoride usage at the Husky refinery, the Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the agency that investigated the Husky refinery blast, asked the EPA in April to update its last analysis of hydrogen fluoride usage, which was completed in 1993.

“People are afraid. They are afraid of this toxic chemical in their midst, afraid of the potential for it to be released,” said Kristen Kulinowski, the provisional executive authority of the safety board.

Industry and government, she added, “need to do everything that we can to ensure that people remain safe in the shadows of these dangerous refineries.”

The EPA has yet to respond to the safety board’s request.

Paine said he wants Husky to build the safest oil refinery possible.

“The refinery still remains an important part of the economy in the city of Superior, and a lot of us over here very much support its operation,” he said. “Safety is our first priority, but we still support an operating refinery as well.”