Extreme weather causes fumes to escape fire-stricken PES refinery

  • Susan Phillips
  • Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY

Emma Lee / WHYY

A large flare burns off fuel at Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery while firefighters battle a fire there.

Heavy rains and high temperatures shifted the lid of a 6 million gallon tank containing gasoline components at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery, according to a spokesperson for the company. The incident caused fumes to escape, prompting complaints from nearby South Philadelphia neighbors.

The refinery is in the process of winding down operations after a fiery explosion tore through the facility last month. The financially troubled company announced it would close the facility within days of the blaze. Crude oil refining operations are expected to halt next week, according to Reuters.

Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management sent an alert message through ReadyPhiladelphia to residents Wednesday afternoon telling them not to be alarmed by the fumes, and that odors may continue to be released as the shutdown continues.

But PES spokeswoman Cherice Corley said neighbors should not anticipate continued odors as a result of the closure.

“We will do everything we can to insure safe wind down of operations here at PES and not impact the community,” Corley told WHYY. “The community is our priority.”

No ‘abnormal’ pollution

Corley said the refinery is using hand-held air pollution detectors and stationary air monitors to measure volatile organic compounds, or VOCs in the air around the refinery. They haven’t recorded abnormal levels of pollution, she said.

The Philadelphia Fire Department’s Hazmat unit has also been on site measuring for chemical releases. A spokesperson for the city said their tests revealed no unusual chemicals or air pollutants.

“We have found no abnormal levels associated with this alert,” said Noëlle Foizen, deputy director for the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

PES is continually placing foam blankets on the roof of the tank to address the fumes. Corley said the rain and high heat have impeded those efforts. Workers are transferring the contents of the 6 million gallon tank to another vessel, which should be complete by the end of the day.

Daniel Harris lives two blocks from the refinery. He said he didn’t get an alert or smell anything unusual.

“Just a little bit of fumes, but that’s normal out there,” he said.

Health Department spokesman James Garrow said the city is sampling for standard air pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone, 24/7.

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