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'Explosion' at ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance; smoke advisory in effect

Social media | Health tips during smoke advisory | Map

An explosion that rocked the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance early Wednesday left four people with minor injuries, dropped smoke and ash on surrounding areas and prompted emergency officials to issue shelter-in-place advisories for residents nearby. The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory for the day.


Updated 12:48 p.m.: 4 minor injuries; air quality inspectors on scene

Four contractors sustained minor injuries and all other personnel have been accounted for following an explosion that rocked the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance early Wednesday, according to a statement from the company.

All four personnel were transported to Long Beach Medical Center for evaluation.

Inspectors with the South Coast Air Quality Management District and refinery personnel meanwhile have joined police and firefighters on scene to test for emissions that could be harmful.

"This morning shortly after 9 a.m., when we were notified by the refinery of the incident, we sent several inspectors to the site to talk to ExxonMobil officials and attempt to take care of air quality samples," AQMD's Sam Atwood told KPCC.

Atwood said he doesn't know what the refinery was burning at the time of the explosion, but AQMD said in a news release earlier that smoke and ash had fallen on the surrounding area and that it had issued a smoke advisory.

"If residents can see smoke or smell smoke, they should not exercise outdoors and perhaps stay indoors, particularly if they have heart or lung disease," Atwood said.

AQMD issued the following tips for staying healthy during a smoke advisory:

  • Everyone should avoid vigorous outdoor or indoor exertion
  • People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should remain indoors
  • Keep windows and doors closed or seek alternate shelter
  • Run your air conditioner if you have one
  • Do NOT use a swamp cooler or whole-house fan, which could bring more smoke inside
  • Paper or surgical masks do NOT adequately protect the wearer from smoke.

Fire officials said a flare system with a visible flame and smoke column was activated as a safety precaution after the explosion.
The company said its immediate focus was on addressing the incident and that it plans to conduct a investigation of the cause of this event.

Del Amo Boulevard remained closed between Crenshaw and Maple.

Location of ExxonMobil refinery

Updated 11:46 a.m.: AQMD issues smoke advisory

A smoke advisory has been issued for areas near the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance after an explosion that occurred there earlier in the morning caused smoke and ash to fall.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District advised anyone in areas where they can see and smell smoke to avoid outdoor exposure and activity, adding that paper or surgical masks are not enough to protect a person.

At least two people sustained minor injuries in the explosion, which Torrance Fire Capt. Steve Deuel said may have occurred at a process unit for gasoline.

Residents reported seeing flames shooting from the refinery's flare stacks, but fire officials told KPCC that was a safety measure activated in response to the explosion.

The Torrance Police Department had earlier sent an alert advising residents in the area to shelter in place, but in a follow-up post to its Facebook page said the warning had been lifted.

Earlier: 'Explosion' at ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance

An explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance on Wednesday morning left two people with minor injuries and prompted police to close a nearby street.

The explosion occurred at about 8:50 a.m. and may have involved a process unit that makes gasoline, Torrance Fire Capt. Steve Deuel told KPCC.

"We have two minor injuries that an EMS personnel evaluated. But from what I understand they were not transported," Deuel said.

Some TV news footage appeared to show damage to structures on the property. Del Amo Boulevard between Maple and Crenshaw was closed, according to police and fire officials.

ExxonMobil acknowledged the incident in a statement shared with KPCC and said it is investigating.

"Our main concern is for the safety of our employees and our neighbors. We are accounting for all personnel and still evaluating the cause of the incident, or the occurrence or amount on any damages," the company said in an email sent by ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler.

Footage from aerial news crews and locals via social media showed huge spouts of flame much larger than would normally be seen shooting from the refinery's flare stacks, but Deuel said that was a safety feature.

"There was a small ground fire after the explosion, and that was quickly extinguished and, as a result of the upset of the unit, they have activated their flare system… which people will see driving by," Deuel said.

Torrance police had issued an alert shortly after 10 a.m. about a "large fire explosion" at the refinery and said officers and firefighters were on scene.

Residents in the affected area were told to shelter in place, turn off HVAC systems and keep all doors and windows closed, according to the alert.

However, a spokeswoman for Torrance PD told KPCC that residents in the area were being advised to use their best judgment, close their windows, turn off their air conditioners and try to stay indoors, but not to shelter in place.

Deuel also told KPCC that there was no need to shelter in place.

"I think it’s business as usual. We’re working to stabilize the incident here. We have had report of some possibly like some insulation material that was from the initial explosion that may have come out of the sky, and we’re looking to see if that left off site," Deuel said.


This story has been updated.