Six men were injured--two of them critically--when leaking hydrogen gas exploded in flames at a petroleum refinery in Santa Fe Springs Friday morning.
Officials said the blaze at the Powerine Oil Co. plant at 12354 Lakeland Road burned for about an hour before it was controlled by company personnel and firefighters from the Santa Fe Springs, Downey and Los Angeles County fire departments.
Al Gualtieri, president of the company, estimated damage from the fire at less than $100,000.
He said the cause of the leak--and exactly what ignited the highly volatile gas--were not immediately determined. All refining operations at the plant, which employs about 300, were being halted to assess what had happened.
Gualtieri said the explosion occurred at 10:10 a.m. beneath a horizontal storage drum between two processing units. One of the units produces gasoline-blending components and the other produces diesel fuel.
None of those injured were immediately identified.
The two critically injured men were both working nearby at the time of the explosion. Fire officials said one suffered second- and third-degree burns over 75% of his body, and the other suffered similar burns over 40% of his body. Both were admitted to Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier.
The four others were believed to be maintenance personnel injured in the blast or while attempting to battle the blaze. Two were taken to Presbyterian Intercommunity, where one was treated for second-degree burns over 30% of his body and the other for burns over about 5% of his body. Two others were treated for back injuries.
Santa Fe Springs Fire Chief Robert Wilson said the plant--which produces fuels sold at local, independent service stations, has been free of any dangerous incidents in recent months, although it has been the site of some fires in the past.
The most recent occurred on Christmas Day in 1988, when a mechanical failure caused hot oil in one refining unit to burst into flames. No one was hurt, but that fire caused damage estimated at $300,000.
Powerine is one of four refineries in Los Angeles County to use hydrofluoric acid, an extremely hazardous chemical, to turn crude oil into gasoline. But the dangerous chemical was not involved in Friday's incident, Wilson said. If spilled, the chemical can become a deadly cloud that can travel for miles.
The plant has the worst record for air-pollution violations and complaints among 10 refineries in the Los Angeles area, according to a recent report by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
According to the AQMD's rankings--which covered the period from Jan. 1, 1988, through September, 1989--the Powerine plant was the source of 818 complaints and 30 violations. The Mobil Oil Co. refinery in Torrance finished next in the rankings with 434 complaints and 24 violations.