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Investigation launched into Honeywell HF release

USA: The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has launched an investigation into the Honeywell production facility in Geismar, Louisiana, after a dangerous HF release.

The release on Friday (June 7), described as the third such serious incident at the plant, is said to have seriously injured a contract maintenance employee working at the plant. 

HF is a major element in the production of HFC and HFO refrigerants. Its production relies on the action of sulfuric acid on the mineral fluorspar at elevated temperatures to generate hydrogen fluoride. This is then stored as liquified gas, or used as an aqueous solution.

Built in 1967 and located on the Mississippi River, approximately 60 miles west of New Orleans, the Geismar plant produces refrigerants, including R1234yf and R134a.

In October 2021, a Honeywell employee died after being exposed to HF on unprotected areas of his face, ear, and neck when a gasket in piping at the facility catastrophically failed.

Then, in January last year, a heat exchanger ruptured at the Geismar facility, resulting in an explosion and the release of approximately 870 lbs (395kg) of hydrogen fluoride, as well as 1,700 lbs (771kg) of chlorine. Local officials closed nearby highways, and workers at the facility sheltered in place. While no one was seriously injured or killed in this event, the CBS insists that, under different circumstances, the release could have put workers at the facility and nearby residents at serious risk. A CSB investigation into January’s incident is currently ongoing.  

Commenting on the latest incident, CSB chairperson Steve Owens said, “This is the third serious incident involving the release of HF at this facility in the last three years. This cannot keep happening.”

The CSB’s board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organisations, labour groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.

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