On April 26, around 10 a.m., on the same day as the anniversary of the explosion at Chernobyl, the Husky Refinery here exploded and caught fire. For nine hours, toxic fumes blew 30 miles to the south. Eleven workers were injured but soon recovered. Most of this city along the shore of Lake Superior had to be evacuated.
Without having yet learned the
details about the damage, Superior’s Democratic Mayor Jim Paine
said that the air was unpolluted after the fire was put out. Right
away, however, community member began to express their fears about
the quality of the water, air, and soil.
Husky is an oil and gas corporation
headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, and a tripartite player with
Enbridge and TransCanada. Its Superior refinery takes in tar sands
from Alberta and, as one of the projects, turns the oil into asphalt.
To make asphalt, Husky uses a deadly chemical called hydrogen
fluoride (HF). The burning asphalt on April 26 was merely a few feet
from the tanks of this deadly substance. If the fire had released the
HF, Superior and much of the surrounding area might resemble
“A worst-case-scenario release
from this facility would cover a radius that would encompass the
entire populated area of the city of Superior and much of Duluth,”
reads the Douglas County hazardous materials response plan. “The
number of people affected would vary by season and current weather
conditions but would range in the thousands any time of year.”
Hydrogen fluoride is also an
additive used in gasoline refining. About 50 refineries around the
country employ the substance—a potential danger to millions of
people. In high concentrations, the fumes burn the skin and lungs.
To present a business-as-usual
facade, Husky held a public forum, which was vigorously opposed by
activists seeking answers. And so, activists with local groups and
Socialist Action organized an alternative forum, which featured local
environmentalists as speakers. About 100 people attended.
In response to growing fears, Husky
held a Q and A at a local middle school within sight of the oil
refinery towers. But instead of answering community concerns with
facts, Husky supplied catered food, Husky paraphernalia, and plenty
of mis-information. Community activists are demanding that HF be
removed from Superior. They want more transparency about the fire and
building green alternatives to the Husky Refinery. This is Superior,
>> The article above was written by Lucas Dietsche.