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Massive Explosions at Largest Oil Refinery on East Coast Shake Philly and NJ Homes

Posted on June 24, 2019 by Lauren Scott

UPDATE: The US CSB has not yet announced a root cause of the explosion, but noted the explosion was the result of an unintentional release of hydrocarbon vapors in the alkylation unit that produces a high-octane blending agent for gasoline. The unit also uses hydrofluoric acid. In its gaseous state, the chemical poses significant health risks. Investigators noted that no hydrofluoric acid escaped, preventing an even worse potential catastrophe. 

The company where the release occured has announced that they will be closing the oil refinery permanently, leaving hundreds of workers without jobs and potentially increasing fuel prices for the Northeast. 

A large, three-part explosion at an oil refinery in South Philadelphia caused massive balls of fire to shoot into the sky and homes to shake in Delaware County, PA and South Jersey. 

City officials estimate the first blast occurred at 3:20 a.m. on June 21, with two subsequent blasts occurring shortly thereafter. The explosions forced the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management to close parts of Interstate 76. Firefighters battled the blaze well into the next day, when it was extinguished on June 22.

The US Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) dispatched a four-person team to investigate the root cause of the explosion. 

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Refinery workers were on site at the time of the explosion but were far enough away to avoid serious injury. Four refinery employees reported minor injuries, which were treated at the site. A shelter-in-place order for a nearby neighborhood was briefly put in place. At this time, the extent of damage to the refinery and surrounding area remains unclear.

When asked about air quality concerns, the Philadelphia Department of Health said residents are in no immediate danger, although the City Fire Department’s hazmat unit and the Department of Public Health will continue to test the air for any hazards. The refinery is the largest source of particle pollution in the Philadelphia area on any given day.

This marks the second blaze at the refinery this month. No one was injured during the first fire on June 10. The oil refinery has been described as the largest of its kind on the Eastern seaboard, producing about 335,000 barrels (14 million gallons) of crude oil per day.

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