Hydrogen Fluoride FAQs
1. What is hydrogen fluoride?
Hydrogen fluoride (HF) is a chemical compound containing fluorine, which exists as a colorless gas under normal conditions. When dissolved in water it forms hydrofluoric acid.
2. What do you use it for?
HF is used in the production of many products, including refrigerants, pharmaceuticals, aluminum and plastics. At the refinery it is used as a catalyzing agent in the alkylation process – light hydrocarbons combine in the presence of HF to form alkylate, which is a blending component in high octane gasoline.
3. Who regulates it?
A number of agencies regulate the use of HF, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health outlines exposure limits and personal protection guidelines.
4. Why do you still use it when there are other options?
We are looking at a number of options for the refinery configuration. The HF unit and its safety systems will be a part of the thorough investigation underway at the refinery, in conjunction with regulators.
HF can be handled safely without adverse risks to humans or the environment if used and handled in accordance with applicable industry risk management practices.
5. How do you protect the public?
The HF storage tank is designed with multiple protection levels, including a dedicated deluge system that douses the tank with a water curtain to keep it cooled and mitigate potential releases.
The HF tank also has a pressure safety valve. In the event pressure builds in the tank, the safety valve opens and the HF gases flow to a scrubber where they are neutralized and sent on to the flare system for destruction. The remaining liquid HF would be drained to the acid neutralization pit and rendered safe.
Evacuation zones are also designated by the county, based on the maximum capacity of the HF tank, and should there be added risk, such as a fire, where tank integrity or safety barriers may be compromised, then officials will act to protect the public. Although no HF was released and HF safety barriers remained functional during the April 26, 2018 fire, an evacuation of residents from the area was directed by public officials as an added precaution.
6. Was hydrogen fluoride released?
No. The first layer of protection in place, the fire suppression system, worked as it was designed to.
The tank was not compromised in the fire.
7. Why was there an evacuation if there was no danger?
The county and city issued an evacuation order as a safety precaution. This precaution is built into our emergency response plan, to be used if necessary.
8. What happens if you come into contact with hydrogen fluoride?
No HF was released during the April 26 fire.
Depending on the concentration, HF is corrosive. Contact can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose and throat, pulmonary edema (difficulty breathing because of excess fluid in the lungs), burns to the eyes or skin, irritation and inflammation inside the nose, bronchitis, and bone changes.