Fluoride Action Network

Pennsylvania lawmakers concerned by economic, environmental impact of refinery fire and shutdown

Source: The Center Square | July 26th, 2019 | By Kim Jarrett
Industry type: Oil Refineries
FILE - Philadelphia Refinery Fire
In this June 21, 2019 file photo, flames and smoke emerge from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex in Philadelphia.


More than a month after a fire at the largest oil refinery on the East Coast, Pennsylvania lawmakers are continuing to examine regulatory and safety issues and the energy company has filed for bankruptcy.

Emergency officials have remained on the scene at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery since the fire happened on June 21, according to Brian Abernathy, managing director for the city of Philadelphia, in testimony provided to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. The investigation into what caused the fire is ongoing, he said.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions blamed the fire for its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on July 21. The company is cooperating with investigators, officials said in a news release. An official closing date was set for August 25, at which time more than 1,000 workers will lose their jobs.

What will happen to the site after cleanup has not been decided, but multiple scenarios are possible, Abernathy said in his testimony. They include restarting the refinery or part of it, the purchase of the refinery by a new operator, or reusing the site for a different purpose. The site also could be abandoned, he said.

Members of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee heard from scientists and regulators about potential safety issues and what could be done to prevent similar incidents in the future at a meeting held at the University of Pennsylvania. PES and the city of Philadelphia were invited to the hearing but declined, Chairman Eugene Yaw said.

Sen. Anthony Williams, a member of the committee who serves the Philadelphia area and requested the hearing, said while the hearing focused on the environmental issues, he didn’t want to downplay the economic impact.

“Losing 1,000 jobs in the city of Philadelphia is no minor consequence to our economy,” Williams said.

Scientists expressed concerns about exposure to hydrofluoric acid and the lack of monitoring. Some peak exposures could not be monitored because none of the routine air monitoring locations were along the wind axis at the time of the fire, said Charles Hass, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University.

“The full list of what was being measured and what the detection limits of the measurements were, have, to my knowledge, not been reported,” Hass said in his testimony. “The latter is quite important, since unless the limits of detection were sufficiently low to detect concentrations at appropriate levels of concern for the general population (as opposed to emergency responders), assurances are of limited value.”

Williams said the detection system may not “adequately be placed or appropriate” for what needs to be done currently but that “we can learn from this moment.”

Questions were also raised about notifications to nearby residents.

“There has to be an improved system of notification in this case not only of our residents but in this case of neighboring communities since this thing spread,” said Sen. Andy Dinniman. “And finally, the question of health testing has to be looked at and one answer is if you have sensors reducing these products this in turn would have an extra protection with the residents. The problem is because all of these things were absent, we really do not know the impact of this on human health and what we need to is figure out as a committee and suggest legislation that would provide this.”

The committee also heard suggestions as to how to prevent similar incidents in the future. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has not reviewed risk management plans for companies that use hydrofluoric acid, said Andrew Williams, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“This is an area where Pennsylvania should act,” Williams said in his written testimony. “In light of EPA’s failure to require increased risk management practices for facilities using or processing HF, Pennsylvania should develop and implement a requirement for third party engineering review of facility risk management plans.”

*Original article online at https://www.thecentersquare.com/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-lawmakers-concerned-by-economic-environmental-impact-of-refinery-fire/article_21c1ad54-afc1-11e9-b8d7-2ff776791017.html