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The risks to employees in industries that use toxins and hazardous chemicals were recently brought home to millions of Americans after the recent Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Now the United Steelworkers union is warning that thousands of American workers may be at risk from toxic exposure to hydrofluoric acid in refineries around the country. The union says many of these refineries are simply not prepared for the consequences that can result from any release of the dangerous chemical.

The Environmental Protection Agency has categorized hydrofluoric acid as a highly toxic chemical. This chemical is formed by the addition of hydrogen fluoride in water, and it is used in the alkylation process at 50 American oil refineries.

According to United Steelworkers, each of these facilities stores large quantities of hydrofluoric acid. Many of the facilities contain as many as 200,000 pounds of concentrated hydrofluoric acid, stored in hazardous conditions. If there is any release of this dangerous toxin, people who work in these plants, as well as people who reside close to the plants, may be at risk of injuries. In fact, United Steelworkers estimates that as many as 26 million people work in hydrofluoric-containing facilities or live close to them.

United Steelworkers recently conducted inspections of several facilities in which workers are represented by the union to gauge the effectiveness of their hazardous chemicals release-and-management plans. The union found that in approximately 75 percent of the plants, there have been at least 31 hydrofluoric acid-related adverse incidents or near-miss incidents during the past three years. In at least 16 of these facilities, workers could have been at serious risk of injuries.

Michael Parsons is an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer, representing injured workers in the metro Atlanta region and helping them recover the workers’ compensation benefits that they deserve.