Toxic acid puts millions at risk


CPI's national look at the danger

ConocoPhillips refinery's record in Washington

How Tesoro's Anacortes refinery embodies slipping safety culture of oil industry

How journalists collaborated to bring you this story

For 170,000 people living in and around Bellingham, it’s a distinctly chilling scenario: Something goes horribly wrong at the ConocoPhillips’ refinery near Ferndale and over the next 10 minutes 110,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid explodes into a cloud that goes on to burn the lungs of whole neighborhoods or towns, causing widespread shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain and possibly even death.

The ConocoPhillips refinery is the only refinery in Washington using a chemical known as hydrofluoric acid, described by federal health officials as a “highly corrosive . . . serious systemic poison.” The stuff is so toxic that it can harm people up to 14 miles downwind, government records show.  

“You mean the most deadly chemical ever invented?” asked environmental activist Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor. “I’ve worked on refinery issues for 25 years. This has been a major issue for at least that long because it is known as one of the most deadly chemicals ever invented.”

Confirms Mark MacIntyre, spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle:  “It’s horrible stuff. It’s some of the worst stuff in the spill-response world.”

Off to have a blast in Lubbock with SEJ board

rm iwest mugI didn't even get through all my back e-mail left over my jam-packed week of learning at the Knight Digital Media Center, and yet I'm headed for the airport. I'm off to Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech University, where I'm due at a meeting of the board of directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Texas Tech is considering hosting one of SEJ's excellent annual conferences, and it turns out the university has some acumen in the world of environmental sciences. For instance, in my recent piece on cancer-causing substances flowing off parking lots and driveways, I noted that Texas Tech researchers help demonstrate how the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons harmed aquatic creatures in Texas streams.

So I'm eager to see what else TT has to offer. I just hope we don't hold the meeting in the chemistry department. :>)

-- Robert McClure