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South Bay Digest / Local News in Brief

Acid Burns Mobil Worker

June 25, 1989

A contract employee erecting scaffolding at the Mobil Oil refinery in Torrance was hospitalized for four hours Friday after suffering a minor facial burn from a small leak of water containing hydrofluoric acid.

Benjamin R. Chaves, 35, of Santa Ana was taken by paramedics to Little Company of Mary Hospital, where he was treated and released.

Torrance Fire Department Inspector Doug Bergen said Chaves was hit in the face by a drop of acid leaking from a flange. He said Chaves was wearing protective clothing but had his facial shield raised when the accident occurred.

Mobil's environmental manager, Greg Munakata, said Chaves was constructing the scaffolding so refinery workers could repair the leaking flange in the refinery's alkylation unit.

The slow leak, discovered early Friday morning, occurred in a relief gas scrubber that removes hydrofluoric acid. The acid is used as a catalyst in the refining process to boost the octane of unleaded gasoline.

An initiative campaign has been launched in Torrance to force Mobil to stop using the acutely toxic chemical.

Mobil officials described the leak of one drop every 30 seconds as very minor. "This was not a leak of hydrofluoric acid," said Munakata. "This was a water drip."

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