For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Randy Barrett (202) 481-1256;
or Steve Carpinelli (202) 481-1225;

Aging U.S. Oil Refineries Put Americans at Risk

WASHINGTON - America’s oil refineries are poorly maintained and many rely on a chemical so toxic it could wipe out entire communities downwind if released in an explosion or other accident.

A joint investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News shows the nation’s 148 refineries are plagued by recurring equipment failures and sometimes-fatal fires, explosions and chemical releases that in many cases could have been prevented.

An easily manipulated regulatory system allows companies to challenge citations for years and postpone mandated fixes. Despite calls for change, some refineries still run equipment to failure rather than maintaining it.

Fifty refineries currently use hydrofluoric acid (HF) as a catalyst to make high-octane gasoline. The chemical can cause lung congestion, inflammation and severe burns of the skin and digestive tract. It also attacks the eyes and bones. It travels quickly if airborne and experiments have shown that it can be lethal almost two miles from the point of release.

A Center analysis of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration data raises questions about safety practices at many of the refineries relying on the chemical. Over the past five years, authorities have cited 30 of the 50 refineries using HF for willful, serious or repeat violations of OSHA standards designed to prevent fires, explosions and chemical releases.

Details of the HF threat are closely held by refinery owners and the federal government. But the Center reviewed reports that indicate at least 16 million people live within reach of worst-case accidental releases of the chemical.

The three-part investigation, "Fueling Fears: The Hidden Hazards of U.S. Oil Refineries," publishes today online and will also appear on ABC’s Nightline. The first story looks at the use of hydrofluoric acid, the second investigates refinery safety and the third focuses on Jose Herrera, a contract worker who suffered severe burns on the job. The project is the latest in an ongoing investigative collaboration with ABC News.

Read the full story and communities at risk from refineries.


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The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern. The Center is non-partisan and non-advocacy. We are committed to transparent and comprehensive reporting both in the United States and around the world.

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