Husky Refinery Is Not Our Mayor

Only today I noticed that the Superior Mayor’s office had posted an update on the section of the Douglas County website he had previously designated to be the single place for information on the refinery fire on May 7. The people of Superior are still waiting for a place where we can ask questions about the fire which is not a Facebook page (which leaves people open to being personally attacked) or run by Husky refinery, so I will continue to ask questions here, among other places. The Douglas County website is a one way transmission.

There are several things worth pointing out about this update. One is that it would seem very few people noticed it being posted and that there are reasons for that. For example no one I know who is active in gathering information about the refinery explosion mentioned it at all or had seen it before me. While a single source of information is indeed a very good idea, one has to wonder why new posts are not also announced on the other places the city uses to give information such as its “Jim Paine, Mayor of Superior” or “City of Superior” Facebook pages. While I hate the use of these privately owned sites in general for the dissemination of information, the fact remains that most people have already become reliant on using them since until last week they were the primary source of information. Why not post something that says, “hey I put something new up on the Douglas County website” if getting information to people was the goal?

The much more disturbing thing about this update however is that while on the Douglas County website the update says “Information from City of Superior Mayor’s Office: A summary of the week’s events has been compiled for your reference,” once you open the document it is clear that the entire update was written directly by the Husky Refinery itself and not by Jim Paine or the Mayor’s office at all. I find this to be totally unacceptable and even reprehensible when the role of our elected officials should be to advocate for our community. Sentences such as “we are beginning to clear areas within the facility so we can facilitate cleanup and the next phases of work,” are a pretty good indicator of the authorship of the document. The role, actions, or even name of the city of Superior is not mentioned even once in the document.

The document is also buried on a list of other updates on the Douglas County website, almost all of which are about air quality. As we now know from our own local scientific experts, the major risk is not from the air quality nor has it been since the immediate few days following the fire. What was in the air has traveled into our soil and potentially our water. It’s on the animals and perhaps on ourselves, and our children. It’s hard not to conclude that all of these updates about air quality are little more than a distraction from other more distressing information included even in a report written by Husky itself, which includes answers to some of the questions we asked on May 1.

The section on wildlife reads:

“Protections and deterrents for wildlife have been implemented as part of the facility response. To date there are two known impacts. One resident deer has been identified with oil staining on all four lower legs and one deceased common grackle has been found. The deer is being monitored. A decision has been made not to tranquilize the deer to remove the oil as it is not showing negative impacts. There has been no observed impacts to fish or other aquatic life in the onsite storm water ponds or Newton Creek as a result of the incident. Water monitoring continues.”

Surely we are not supposed to believe that the real concern is one single deer but rather that where there is one, there must be more? And how could a deer covered in oil not be showing negative impacts? This defies the imagination. And what of the bird?

I see here it’s also mentioned that:

“Water samples collected post incident to date are comparable to baseline samples pre-incident under normal refinery operating conditions, with the exception of trace amounts of Perfluoroalkyl Sulfonate (PFAS) – a chemical component found in firefighting foam.”

As we suggested previously, these are part of the same class of chemicals for which 3M just settled an $850 million dollar lawsuit because of the known health risks to humans and aquatic systems. How will the public be informed of the “treatment strategy” which is “being prepared”? Why didn’t Husky already have such a treatment strategy already in place since surely an asphalt fire in a refinery is not such an unlikely emergency? This is one of the questions we have already asked, and to which we received deflective answers from our mayor, leaving me more concerned than ever.

But how is the public ever supposed to trust any of the answers we receive if our mayor is reposting a summary produced by the corporation responsible for almost killing us, and passing it off as if the city and the refinery are one and the same voice?

Protect the Water.pdf

Questions to and from the City of Superior

Public Comments to Superior City Council
May 1, 2018

As a social scientist I have been talking to people and taking notes on their questions and experiences for the last several days since the Husky Refinery explosion on Thursday April 26. This is a list of questions I have heard and compiled from community members who live and work in Superior, many of whom are UW-Superior students. It’s important to note that these are not rhetorical questions, but ones that we are hoping for answers to at some point in the future from the appropriate authority.

  1. Is the site still hot? Are there still fire concerns?
  2. What’s the role of independent scientists in all of this, for verifying tests and getting second opinions? As we know, this is good science.
  3. Where can people go to get their questions answered that isn’t a Facebook page (which leaves them open to being attacked and trolled) and isn’t run by Husky Refinery?
  4. What medical symptoms should people be on the lookout for?
  5. What are the instructions for people who grow food locally, including commercial growers? What compensation will be available for them for these losses?
  6. Where did the particulates end up – in the blast zone, in the plume, where exactly?
  7. How will the city work with UWS to improve their evacuation plan?
  8. Why was UWS ever considered a mustering point?
  9. Why doesn’t the city have a designated shelter and a designated helpline ready to go in the event of an emergency if we have a refinery located in our community?
  10. What about the deer right at the explosion site? And what about the people who eat the deer?
  11. What is the status of Lake Superior? Will it be safe to swim in? And how will we know?
  12. What are Husky’s plans for the future of hydrofluoric acid? What are the city’s plans regarding this risk?
  13. Why are there propane gas tanks located just across the street from the refinery in the first place?
  14. Exactly what tests are being run on the water and soil, and what is the time frame of those tests?
  15. What was the cause of the explosion?
  16. What do repair and reconstruction of the refinery actually look like? Will tanks be patched or replaced?
  17. Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) are found in the foam used to fight the fire at the refinery, and are highly toxic to aquatic systems. In fact 3M recently lost a lawsuit to the state of Minnesota for $850 million dollars. for not disclosing the health risk around the use of these chemicals. What efforts are being used to contain the PFCs and clean it up?
  18. Why isn’t Husky’s own wastewater treatment plant designed to treat the Class B foams needed to put out a fire at Husky’s refinery?

One thing I have learned over the last several days is that lack of information also causes panic.

Photo shows black cloud of billowing smoke with workers walking away toward the camera, and many power lines.

Husky Refinery Explosion close up. Photo by Sheila Lamb.