Massive Explosion at Philly Refinery on Friday, Toxic Gas Release Narrowly Averted

A massive explosion at an old oil refinery shook South Philadephia early Friday morning, causing the city to issue orders for nearby residents to shelter in place, and the fire, while controlled, continued to burn into Saturday until the refinery was able to turn off a valve, according to Philadelphia fire and emergency management officials.  The explosion occurred after one of a series of gas blasts at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery sent a fireball into the air and “rocked people awake” for miles at around 4:30 a.m.  Four workers at the plant were injured, but the blast, according to Reuters, “renewed concerns about the oil industry’s use of a highly toxic chemical to make high-octane gasoline at plants in densely populated areas.”

Why  This Matters:  Aging refineries and industrial facilities sited in large urban areas are a real risk and their safety must be very closely monitored and they should potentially be closed if they do not meet strict safety standards.

Indeed, one member of the Board told the local NBC news affiliate that the region dodged a bullet and that if another chemical had been involved, the explosion could have been a catastrophe to human life.  We need to know what other facilities like this are at risk and to examine the impacts of facilities like these on the mostly poor and minority communities in which they are located.  This facility dates back to the 19th century — it opened a year after the Civil War ended.

The Explosion Could Have Been A Real Disaster.  

According to the local NBC news station, a “plume of thick, black smoke billowed east from the large complex near Philadelphia International Airport and over portions of South Philadelphia, the Delaware River and into South Jersey.” Though city health officials said the area was safe, the smoke could be dangerous, according to an air-quality expert. “Immediate exposure can trigger asthma and other issues,” he cautioned. “If it were me, what I would do is leave the area for as much of the day as possible.”

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