Advisory committee releases report on refinery explosion response; offers look at past and future of site

KYW Staff
November 26, 2019 - 1:14 pm
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UPDATED: 6:56 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia's PES Advisory Committee has released a report reviewing the city's response to the June 2019 refinery explosion, as well as looking at the site's impact on the city in the past and what the site's future looks like. 

The committee held six public meetings and heard from hundreds of people about the refinery fire and its impact on the environment, economy and public health and safety.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy — who authored the report along with Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel — says right now, all the city can do is improve its own operations and watch.

"We don't own the site. It's a private site. It's in bankruptcy proceedings, and the bankruptcy judge will ultimately make final determinations," he said.

Before the fire broke out, the site was responsible for churning out more than 5,000 pounds of water pollution every year, according to report.

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The committee also noted that in 2016, 56% of toxic emissions in the city came from the refinery. "These toxic emissions include benzene and other known carcinogens," the report stated.

The site also found produced 20% of the Philadelphia's greenhouse emissions. 

But the report also looked at the city's response, with a focus on hazardous material and air monitoring, which are being re-evaluated in the wake of the fire.

"We've done what we need to do now, tactically, and again the report tees up a more strategic process and strategic look at how we maintain that level of capability, which is always going to be a need here in the city of Philadelphia," said Thiel.

The hydrofluoric acid at the refinery was a primary concern during the fire and remains a factor in moving forward because of its deadly potential.

"We certainly recognize there are hazardous materials located in fixed facilities around the city. And also we always have to be ready for hazardous materials incidents, because we are astride several different major transportation corridors. This always has been and is always going to be a need for us," he added. 

Abernathy says what the city wants and what the outcome will be, however, are different things. 

"The city does not want HF back on that property, and we'll certainly pass that along through the bankruptcy proceedings as well as we've already passed that along to the current PES management," Abernathy said. 

In October, a report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) revealed that about 2,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid were contained by water spray, but nearly 3,300 pounds were released into the air after the refinery explosion. 

The report listed multiple potential uses for the refinery as the site itself is in a strategic location and has high quality industrial infrastructure. Continuing to process petroleum is a possible and likely outcome, the report stated. The site's numerous pipelines, storage tanks and processing equipment could push the site to produce renewable energy, as well as natural gas liquids or petrochemical. 

The site, the report stated, could also be used for warehouses and manufacturing. 

Abernathy says ultimately the decision for the future is in bankruptcy court, and with the new owners of the refinery. 

A bankruptcy judge is holding an auction to sell the refinery in mid-January. 

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KYW Newsradio's Kim Glovas and Justin Udo contributed to this report.