Minn. lawmakers warn of toxic chemical stored in St. Paul Park refinery

Superior police officer Patrick Deignan goes door-to-door.
Superior police officer Patrick Deignan goes door-to-door in a neighborhood near the Husky Energy oil refinery to make sure residents are aware of the need to evacuate April 26, 2018, after a series of explosions rocked the facility.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Two Minnesota lawmakers want a Twin Cities oil refinery to stop using the toxic chemical, hydrogen fluoride.

In a letter to state regulators, state Rep. Frank Hornstein and state Sen. Scott Dibble, who are both DFLers from Minneapolis, say the April 26 explosion and fire at the Husky Energy refinery in Superior, Wis., raises safety concerns about the Andeavor refinery in St. Paul Park.

No hydrogen fluoride leaked in Superior, but if it did, an acidic cloud could have injured people downwind.

Andeavor uses the same chemical to make high-octane gasoline. Dibble said state and local emergency responders need to review their plans.

"Hydrogen fluoride is highly toxic if it is released, Dibble said. "The facility down here in St. Paul Park would affect over a million people if there's a worst-case scenario," Dibble said.

In an interview last week, Andeavor public affairs manager Kate Blair said the refinery's emergency plans are updated every year, and staff train regularly with first responders from surrounding communities.

Blair said if there is an accident at the plant, staff are equipped to secure the hydrogen fluoride.

"We have a great mitigation system in place," Blair said. "It's the best. It's the gold standard across the country of mitigation systems that would prevent HF from going off-site and would also allow us to take our systems down as necessary."

Meanwhile, officials in Wisconsin said Monday that field inspections in the vicinity of last month's refinery fire have not found contamination. In a statement, the Douglas County Public Health Division said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and consultants for the refinery "have not found visual soot deposits to indicate any soil concerns."

Officials say the compounds in smoke are unhealthy to breathe, but the potential for harm is much less once the compounds settle into the soil. However they still are urging residents to wash garden vegetables before eating them.

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