With PES refinery site future unclear, Kenney proposes ban on use of deadly chemical

Pat Loeb
February 11, 2020 - 5:26 pm
Philadelphia Energy Solutions

Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio, file

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney is proposing a ban on the use of hydrogen fluoride at refineries in Philadelphia. The legislation was announced Tuesday on the eve of a bankruptcy hearing on the future of the shuttered Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, the target of the ban. 

Hydrogen fluoride, or HF, is a deadly chemical that many refineries have already abandoned but it was in use last June when an explosion ripped through PES, igniting a fire that destroyed the plant and forced the company into bankruptcy. 

There was a small release of HF that quickly dissipated but, in a statement, the mayor says the city only "narrowly avoided" a larger disaster because of the quick action of refinery workers, and a bill banning use of the chemical will minimize risk in the future.

A development company won the auction for the refinery site, eyeing it for other uses, but the plan has drawn many objections. 

PES unions have backed a plan to re-open the refinery, but the steelworkers' local president Ryan O'Callaghan says they also oppose the use of HF.

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"It's a dangerous chemical and in close proximity to a population, such as it is in Philadelphia, it's a serious hazard," O'Callaghan said.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy says a bill to ban HF would ensure that no matter what happens to the site, the city would be protected.

"Hydrogen fluoride is known to be very dangerous and the refining process has some inherent risks around combustion. To mix the two just doesn't seem to make sense, long-term," he said. 

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the South Philadelphia district where the refinery is located, plans to introduce the bill at this week's Council session.