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Metro eyes St. Paul Park refinery following Superior explosion

St. Paul Park refinery houses a large amount of hazardous gas hydrogen fluoride. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia file photo

ST. PAUL PARK — The St. Paul Park refinery, recently sold to Marathon Petroleum, is under fire from legislators and the community for housing hydrogen fluoride after the explosion at Husky Energy refinery in Superior, Wis.

The Star Tribune reported last week that records found at the Chicago Environmental Protection Agency office record a "worst-case" scenario where over 1.5 million people in a 19-mile radius of the refinery could be affected by emissions from the refinery in an emergency situation.

High levels of hydrogen fluoride inhalation or contact with skin can cause death from fluid buildup in lungs or irregular heartbeat. Contact with the eyes can also cause blindness.

Within about a mile radius of the refinery are the Newport Elementary School, Oltman Middle School and the soon-to-open new Oltman Middle School on 65th Street.

Two state Legislators — Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis — and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum have sent letters to agencies including the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Pollution Control Agency and Marathon Petroleum to try and end the use of hydrogen fluoride in this and other refineries.

During a Bulletin interview in December, Andeavor spokeswoman Destin Singleton said it's common practice for refineries to have a buffer zone — a strip of land between the refinery and the rest of the community — for safety, protection and to control access to the grounds. The size of a buffer zone depends on the refinery and on what's for sale around the site.

The refinery owns a few hundred surrounding acres for buffer land, including 160 acres on the other side of Highway 61, obtained through voluntary sales by individual land or home owners.

Many St. Paul Park homes are closer to the refinery than much of that buffer land, including Broadway Avenue, which directly abuts the refinery.

Check back for more as RiverTown Multimedia investigates the use of hydrogen fluoride at the St. Paul Park refinery.

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