US labour seeks to remove hydrogen fluoride acid catalysts

12 November 2009 21:20  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The United Steelworkers (USW) union on Thursday called for the removal of hydrogen fluoride and hydrofluoric (HF) acid-based catalysts, demanding refineries across the US install and use alternative methods.

Solutions containing hydrogen fluoride are used as catalysts in refineries and chemical plants, often to produce high-octane gasoline.

In a teleconference held by the USW, several speakers keyed in on the dangers of using hydrogen fluoride in the refining process, citing recent incidents in which hydrogen fluoride or HF acid was released and injured refinery workers.

‘There’s a variety of concerns with hydrogen fluoride,” said homeland security consultant Fred Millar. “One can imagine a terrorist attack.”

Neil Carman of the Sierra Club called for the ban “because it’s a deadly chemical,” and demanded refiners be more transparent and proactive with information when HF-related incidents occur.

“We can’t depend on state regulators ... there is really no way to get this information without cooperation from the refiners,” Carman said.

The USW cited modified-HF and sulphuric acid as “safer” alternatives, and also pointed to the commercially-unproven technology Exsact, made by Exelus, Inc.

However, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) disputed such notions, arguing that refiners “can’t simply switch hydrofluoric acid for something else”.

“Such a policy position could actually threaten the very jobs USW is seeking to protect,” said NPRA spokesman Bill Holbrook.

“It appears that USW continues to be a victim of bad analysis provided by environmental activists, who for years have unsuccessfully promoted the concept of chemical substitution.”

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By: Steven McGinn
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