SUPERIOR, WI — It’s been almost six months now since an explosion and fire at Superior’s Husky Energy refinery rocked the Twin Ports, sending thick plumes of toxic black smoke miles into the air and forcing the evacuation of most of the city.
No one was killed, but 36 people were injured in the blast. And ever since, several unanswered questions have lingered for many in the community, including concerns over the refinery’s use of Hydrogen Fluoride–a potentially deadly chemical–if it were to be released.
But there has been some progress in the pursuit of answers:
- Five lawmakers from Minnesota and Wisconsin are calling on the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to hold hearings in the Twin Ports regarding Husky Energy, and their use of Hydreogen Fluoride. The letter was signed at the end of September by U.S. Representatives Betty McCollum, Rick Nolan, Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar (all of MN), and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI). The group is asking the board to consider hosting hearings to provide an opportunity for open dialogue about the Board’s concerns about the use of Hydrogen Fluoride at refineries, including Husky Energy.
- Seven contract workers who claim they were injured in the April explosion have filed a civil lawsuit against Husky Energy, and the refinery’s former owner, Calumet. The lawsuit specifically names Kollin Schade, the refinery manager, and John O’Brian, the safety and security manager, among others. The plaintiffs allege they heard a strange knocking noise, causing them and other employees to rush out of the refinery thinking it was unsafe. They were then allegedly instructed by defendants to return to work. Approximately 30 to 45 minutes later the refinery exploded, sending the plaintiffs to the ground, and “showered them with debris and shrapnel.
- A report released in September on the explosion at the Husky refinery points out communication issues between emergency agencies and the public. One of its major findings: confusion over the evacuation zone.
- Just last week OSHA officials have released a report saying the incident could have been prevented. OSHA has cited eight serious violations against the refinery, including equipment failure, staff safety, and procedure protocol violations. OSHA officials say the eight serious violations include include equipment failure, staff safety, and procedure protocol violations. The penalty for these eight serious citations amounts to more than $83,000 in fines. OSHA spokespeople say the citations were issued “for failing to control the use and release of highly hazardous chemicals.”
In this week’s episode of Beyond the Headlines Dan Wolfe sits down with Ginger Juel, co-founder of the citizen watchdog group known as Twin Ports Action Alliance. The organization of concerned citizens has been heavily involved with getting answers from Husky Energy in the aftermath of the April explosion. Juel weighs in on the OSHA citations, calls from lawmakers for more transparency, and more.
Wolfe also sits down with Sen. Janet Bewley [D-Ashland], whose expansive district covers much of Northwest Wisconsin, including Superior. Sen. Bewley also weighs in on the latest developments.