On June 21, a series of fires and pipe explosions struck the largest refinery complex on the East Coast. The fire occurred at Philadelphia Energy Solutions in South Philadelphia shortly after 4 AM and continued burning for days afterward. The blast was reportedly strong enough to be felt in South Jersey, and a meteorological satellite picked it up from orbit.
As is protocol for chemical plant explosions, the Chemical Safety Board sent investigators to determine the cause of the explosion and make recommendations for prevention. At the time, the Philadelphia Department of Health measured air quality and did not find "any immediate danger" to the community.
The explosions closely followed a fire on June 10 at the same complex. The June 10 fire caused environmentalists and neighborhood advocates to protest about the safety of the plant, which was first built in 1866. As it turns out, they were right to be concerned:
A new federal report, just released by the Chemical Safety Board, has found that nearly three tons of hydrofluoric acid was leaked into the atmosphere in those early morning explosions. The primary cause of the explosion was a decades-old pipe that had worn down to seven percent of its original thickness. As you might guess, pipes are required to be replaced well before they lose 93 percent of their thickness.
"The thickness of [the pipe] was not monitored," the CSB report said.
Early Fears Are Confirmed
In August, Reuters reported that there was a possibility that hydrofluoric acid (HF) was released by the Philadelphia pipe explosion, but city officials and company spokespeople did not confirm it. The Chemical Safety Board is the first investigatory authority to confirm that the deadly acid was released into the air.
HF exposure is marked by extremely painful or fatal effects, including fluid buildup in the lungs, heart attack, ulcers, and severe burns. So far, there haven't been widespread complaints of any symptoms associated with HF exposure in the days after the explosion; experts believe the HF may have been blown high into the atmosphere or may have leaked slowly in low amounts.
"That's a massive release," said Peter DeCarlo, air quality expert and professor at Drexel University. "Based on what we've seen and based on the lack of major health impacts, which would have been clearly observed, we dodged a fairly substantial bullet."
In total, about 676,000 pounds of hydrocarbons were released by the pipe blast. Though much of it was burned in the fire, the impact of this explosion on the residents of South Philadelphia may not yet be fully understood.
Arnold & Itkin fights for people who have been harmed by chemical plant explosions. Speak with our refinery explosion attorneys today if you believe your health problems were caused by the Philadelphia pipe exposion. We offer free consultations so you can learn your legal and financial options.