A series of explosions at a Philadelphia oil refinery injured five workers and forced many nearby residents to evacuate their homes. People across Southwest Philadelphia were awakened when the early-morning blasts shook the ground and shot giant flames into the air. This was not the first fire at the 149-year old refinery; residents were also forced to evacuate under similar circumstances during the 1970s and 80s. The recent incident has prompted those who live and work in close proximity to the refinery to voice mounting health and safety-related concerns.
Potential for Disaster
Hundreds of thousands of people could have been exposed to hydrogen fluoride, an extremely toxic and often lethal substance. The refinery (the largest one on the East Coast) was reportedly housing up to 420,000 pounds of the corrosive agent at the time of the explosion.
Also known as hydrofluoric acid, hydrogen fluoride causes chemical burns and other serious toxic exposure injuries after just ten minutes of exposure to 170 parts per million in the air. Not many oil refineries in the U.S. perform hydrogen fluoride-based alkylation due to its highly hazardous nature; inhalation typically results in death due to massive hemorrhaging and cardiac arrest. Fortunately, the hydrogen fluoride was not released and there were no fatalities in the explosion.
A History of Infractions
The Pennsylvania oil refinery was cited 24 times between 2013 and 2015 for various health and safety infractions, resulting in approximately $700,000 in settlements with the city. Again, the company was cited in a 2017 NAACP report as being responsible for 72 percent of the toxic air emissions in Philadelphia. The report, which analyzed the impact of air pollution caused by such industrial plants on African Americans – more than one million of which live within one mile of a gas facility – notes that these communities are disproportionately exposed to ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, benzene, sulfuric acid, and other toxic air emissions.
Residents Express Concerns
Refinery workers as well as those who live in Southwest Philadelphia near the refinery have expressed concerns about their health and safety in the wake of the near miss. Toxins released from the refinery have been linked to headaches, asthma, lung and heart disease, cancer, and various respiratory conditions. According to the Philadelphia Department of Health, the air quality does not pose an immediate danger to surrounding communities.
Following the explosion, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to find safer alternatives to hydrogen fluoride. Oil manufacturers have rejected alternatives such as sulfuric acid reactors in the past due to its high cost and large special requirements. However, interest groups, public health organizations, and those living in affected communities hope that the recent Philadelphia incident will compel change at the federal level.
Philadelphia Work Accident Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Workers Injured in Explosions
If you were injured or you lost a loved one in a chemical plant accident, contact a Philadelphia work accident lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Our experienced attorneys can help you obtain the benefits to which you are entitled. For over 40 years, we have proudly represented clients in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania. Please complete our online contact form or call us at 888-PITT-LAW today for a free consultation.
From our offices in Philadelphia, Bensalem, Lansdowne, and Reading, we represent injured workers throughout Pennsylvania, including those in the areas of Berks County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Philadelphia County, and the communities of Abington, Ambler, Ardmore, Bala Cynwyd, Bensalem, Clifton Heights, Crum Lynne, Darby, Downingtown, Doylestown, Drexel Hill, Essington, Folcroft, Glenolden, Haverford, Havertown, Holmes, Kutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion Station, Morton, Narberth, Norristown, Norwood, Philadelphia, Prospect Park, Quakertown, Reading, Roxborough, Sharon Hill, Upper Darby, West Chester, and Wynnewood.