South Philadelphia is home to Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest oil refinery on the East Coast. In June, a leak at the refinery’s alkylation unit formed a ground-hugging vapor cloud, which subsequently caught fire, causing massive explosions that covered local neighborhoods in thick black smoke. A new report released by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board confirms that the explosion released toxic chemicals into the air.
The report was the first confirmation that hydrofluoric acid was released into the atmosphere during the explosion. Crews were able to contain almost 2,000 pounds of the toxic chemical using water spray, but more than 3,000 pounds escaped. Hydrofluoric acid is so toxic that exposure to only 2.5 percent of body surface area can be fatal. If it makes contact with skin it can destroy deep tissue layers and even bone. Inhaling hydrofluoric acid can cause severe lung injury and even death. Residents of south Philadelphia say that since the June blast they have experienced chest pains, eye irritation, and headaches. A physician from the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania said that conditions like eye irritation and chemical conjunctivitis could be related to the blast.
Residents of South Philly have their own advocacy groups and over the years they have complained about the environmental impact of the refinery in their backyard. One resident described the routine her family has developed for emergencies such as the June explosion. After being told to shelter in place, they stuffed blankets under their doors and taped plastic over the windows to minimize the risk of chemical exposure. Because they are too poor to move somewhere else, residents feel they have no say as to whether they can breathe fresh air and be healthy. In 2017, a joint report from the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that African American communities are disproportionately impacted by refineries and their influence on air quality, including ozone smog and high asthma rates. Philadelphia’s childhood asthma rate is more than double the national average.
Even before the explosion the refinery had the distinction of being Philadelphia’s largest air polluter. It processes 335,000 barrels of crude oil on its 1,400 acres complex every single day. According to the Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia is the 12th most polluted city in America when measured by particulate pollution. More than 50 percent of Philadelphia’s local emissions come from the refinery. Some, but not all, of the particles emitted are visible to the human eye. The smallest particles are the biggest health hazard. In the past, the refinery has been repeatedly flagged for violations. In nine of the last 12 quarters it received High Priority Violations of the Clean Air Act.
If you or someone you love suffers from injuries or illness related to toxic chemical exposure, contact an experienced Delaware environmental lawyer at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. Our dedicated team will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Call us at 302-656-5445 today to schedule a confidential consultation about your case or contact us online. From our offices in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware, we represent satisfied clients throughout Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County.