City officials say no evidence of elevated chemical levels after refinery fire

Pat Loeb
June 25, 2019 - 3:32 pm
Refinery fire

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — City officials say there's no evidence that the explosive refinery fire last week caused elevated levels of dangerous chemicals or had any public health impact. 

At an update Tuesday, officials said investigations into the cause of the fire are underway, but they will take some time to complete. 

Deputy Health Commissioner Caroline Johnson said Air Management Services has been doing "aggressive" monitoring of chemicals associated with fires and burning fuel.

"They have been doing daily inspections in the community and along the fence line of PES (Philadelphia Energy Solutions), and all of those have been negative," she said, adding there's no evidence of any other public health effects.

She said that may be due to the prevailing winds the night of the fire, in which "weather patterns actually blew the smoke away from the city."

The fire burned for more than 24 hours after an explosion that officials believe started from a vat of butane and propane.

 

The city has also seen no increase in cases of respiratory distress or any other fire-related complaints, according to Johnson. Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, however, said his department still hasn't placed the incident under control.

"As you can imagine with an incident of this magnitude, there are still some uncertainties, but they're very minor and marginal," he added.

New Jersey officials said they found a slight spike in particulates the morning of the fire, but it's back to normal. 

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While officials sought to reassure the public that there are no lingering health effects, Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy noted the investigation could take months, even years, to complete. In the meantime, he is leading a working group, which includes PES officials, to answer questions about risks, responses and the plant's future.

"The administration believes that Philadelphia Energy Solutions is a vital part of our business community," said Abernathy, "but we also recognize the concerns this incidence raised in the community and the city as a whole."

"I do believe there is room for improvement, both in the operation of the refinery and communications with resident," added Mayor Jim Kenney. 

Some working group meetings will be public. The first one will be held by the end of July.