By Jillian Baxter
While the City seems content to keep giving Philadelphia Energy Solutions more chances, others have run out of patience.
“There are thousands of Philadelphians who live in close proximity to this plant and 1,000 workers who show up everyday with the goal of providing for their families and getting home safe,” says At-Large Councilmember Helen Gym in her response on Twitter. “The refinery should be shut down until a full and independent investigation by city, state, and federal officials have determined the cause of the explosion and the fires, assessed and improved safety protocols, and communicated clearly to residents and workers of these findings.”
The Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a nonprofit organization comprised of health professionals dedicated to protecting the health of the public, the environment and communities, issued a statement on the explosion urging the City to take every precaution after the latest incident.
“This is the second fire within the past two weeks at the refinery,” the release, offered jointly by PSR Interim Executive Director Walter Tsou and PSR President Pouné Saberi, states. “We are deeply concerned for the safety of the workers and nearby residents.” While testing by Philadelphia’s Air Management Service Laboratory found no unsafe emissions from the explosion, PSR and air quality experts are not convinced. “Our concern is that air monitors may not be capturing accurate air pollution data if the plumes do not travel over the site.”
“We hold policy makers like Kenyatta Johnson, Jordan Harris, Mayor Jim Kenny, and city council members-at-large accountable for protecting the health of the public from catastrophes such as this one,” the PSR release continues. “Approving any other fossil fuel infrastructure in Philadelphia, such as the SEPTA gas plant and liquefied natural gas plant, will create more unacceptable sacrifice zones.”
The PES refinery has a history of safety scares. Friday’s explosion is the fourth fire at the refinery in just eight years. The most serious accident occurred in 2009 when 13 workers were sent to the hospital after a Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) leak. HF, a highly toxic gas, is still used today at the refinery, despite a push by the United Steelworkers Union to replace it with a less hazardous alternative. Luckily, no HF was involved in the explosion last Friday. If it had been, the news would likely be grim. “Philadelphia and surrounding communities appear to have narrowly dodged a catastrophe,” says Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, in a letter calling for the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) to investigate the explosion.
Gym believes we can and must do better. “No Philadelphian should have to wake up with their city on fire.”