Health Concerns Mount After Refinery Explosion Coats California City With White Ash

The white ash that rained on the city of Torrance, California after a refinery explosion on Wednesday has been deemed non-toxic by city officials, but some oil industry workers and community members are questioning that claim.

Members of the USW Local 675, the union which represents workers at ExxonMobil’s Torrance refinery, believe that the ash contained chemicals that could be harmful to human health beyond general irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. The ash — something called “catalyst dust” — is made up from particles that come from a piece of refinery equipment called a fluid catalytic cracking unit, which converts crude oil to gasoline. The unit produces a fine, almost volcanic-looking ash, which is usually made up of aluminum oxide and smaller amounts of nickel and vanadium.

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