Superior Refinery Fire Update – Friday Press Conference Addresses Initial Air And Water Quality Among Other Things
The City of Superior held a press conference at 10 am Friday morning addressing the latest information regarding the fire at the Husky Refinery, the air and water quality, and continuing mop-up efforts at the site.
Refinery Site Updates
Superior Mayor Paine explained that the fire was declared "under control" at 6:42 Thursday evening, however ongoing hotspots are the key concern in mop-up efforts. Asphalt, the primary material that burned in the fire, is still very hot and may take 24 hours or more to cool according to Superior Fire Chief Steve Panger.
Panger described the area as still "very hot", saying crews will remain on the scene to continue mop-up and prevent re-ignition.
Air & Water Quality
The EPA and Wisconsin DNR have been and will continue to monitor air and water quality both near the site and around the community. Mayor Paine said the city will draft a joint statement with both agencies addressing air and water quality concerns as the assessments continue. He did go as far as to call the air quality safe and the site stable.
David Morrison from the EPA explained that his agency's testing had an initial, primary focus on air quality near the hot zone and where emergency responders were located, but was expanded around the city after they had enough resources to be able to do so. He went on to say that "trace levels of volatile chemicals, particulates, and dust" have been found in their testing, but that these levels are below the threshold of concern. Monitoring equipment will remain in place to not only continue to monitor ongoing impacts from the site, but also to test around the area to determine what "normal levels" are.
Morrison explained that materials in asphalt smoke tend to stick to air particles and soot, and that is being accounted for during testing. He also described efforts to capture water runoff from firefighting efforts at the refinery to avoid contamination into streams or other water systems that would not only include chemicals from the refinery, but also chemicals used in fighting the fire as well.
No chemical assessment has been completed at this time, but both air and water quality and examination for residual chemicals from the fire and smoke will be done by the Wisconsin DNR and EPA.
When asked about why the evacuation order was held in place overnight, Mayor Paine explained that they wanted to approach with extra caution, assuring the public that the integrity of the site and air quality were at levels safe enough for the public to return. Paine also went on to thank the various agencies for their response efforts, Duluth for outreach and assistance, and to the citizens of Superior for quickly and safely complying with the evacuation order and "acting like a community", calmly responding to the incident and doing what they could to be a constructive part of the entire happenings of the day. He went on to say that emergency plans that were in place for this type of event were followed well, which is a major part of why this potentially catastrophic event wasn't substantially worse than it was.
Chief Panger said that 6 people were transported to the hospital, 7 others were treated and released at the scene, and the remainder of the people on site were accounted for. Kollin Schade from Husky Energy further elaborated on those transported to area hospitals, saying those individuals remained in the hospital overnight Thursday, but are expected to be released sometime Friday.
Schade said the cause of the explosion/fire is still under investigation, and explained that Thursday was a typical operations day at the refinery when these events occurred. He said that once the site is cooled, an assessment and cleanup will occur.