Thursday, July 25, 2019

Senate Environmental Committee Hears Concerns About Monitoring Impacts Of The Philadelphia Refinery Explosion, Site Cleanup

On July 24, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a hearing in Philadelphia to hear comments on the environmental issues associated with the June 21 explosion at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex and with cleaning up the site for reuse.
The hearing was held at the request of Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), who represents the area.
The Committee invited the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (the current owner of the refinery), Evergreen Resources Management (representing the refinery's previous owner Sunoco and who is conducting a cleanup of previous contamination at the site) and the City of Philadelphia to the hearing, but they declined to provide comments in person.
The City of Philadelphia did provide written comments to the Committee.
Joe Adams, DEP Acting Deputy Secretary for Field Operations, provided the Committee with an overview of the agency’s emergency response and regulatory responsibilities at the refinery.
Adams noted the City of Philadelphia has its own air quality monitoring and regulatory program managed by Philadelphia Air Management Services.  Authority for local air pollution control agencies like Philadelphia is provided for in the state Air Pollution Control Act.
DEP does regulate 246 primarily aboveground storage tanks on the site and will require the refinery to conduct a structural integrity and other inspections to make sure they are sound and can continue to be used.
DEP regulates the refinery’s two wastewater treatment plans and has taken samples and reviewed both plants to make sure they are operating within their permit limits.
The refinery is a large quantity generator of hazardous waste and DEP said they have been in compliance with those requires throughout this period.
DEP also regulates the 28 gauges on site that use radioactive sources and confirmed they are secure.
With respect to site remediation, the refinery’s prior owner, Sunoco, through its affiliate Evergreen Resources Management, has been remediating the site and is under a Department order to attain a remediation standard by December 2020 for all contamination existing prior to its transfer of the site to the current owner in 2012.
Any contamination occurring under the current owner, including contamination that may have resulted from the explosion, will be the responsibility of Philadelphia Energy Solutions.
Adams said all partner organizations are evaluating this site fully, recognizing the financial and resource impacts the explosion has had on the owner/operator. 
DEP has met with the PES environmental staff to discuss the status of various permits for the facility moving forward. 
If the facility were to close, Adams said DEP would require certain plans to be implemented and actions to take place in order to properly close the regulated facilities, structures, and areas. 
DEP has also reviewed all of its site files in order to determine what permits exist, the requirements of those permits, the status of site characterization, remediation activities, and what obligations the facility will have in the event of a closure. 
If the facility were to remain open, Adams DEP would work with PES to ensure compliance with existing permits, or to ensure that those permits were properly and legally transferred to another operator.
Marilyn Howarth, MD, FACOEM, Director, Community Outreach & Engagement Core (COEC), Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, University of Pennsylvania, said “The recent fires at the PES refinery have led to many questions about the preparedness of Philadelphia Air Management to quickly  identify airborne hazards and adequately protect people.
“On-site monitoring systems should always provide the initial data on releases including those from a fire.  However, immediate community level monitoring should be in place in particular when the emissions could have catastrophic health consequences.”
“AMS [Air Management Services] used handheld HF [hydrofluoric acid] monitors in the first hours after the explosion and fire which occurred at around 4 AM.  When AMS monitors in a nearby neighborhood detected elevated levels of HF the EPA was asked to provide confirmation but this did not occur until 10 AM by which time HF may have been long gone.
“Had there been a substantial HF leak, many residents would have been exposed leading to permanent lung damage and possibly death as have occurred in several other refinery HF leaks in the US.”
“The closure of the refinery alone, should substantially improve the ozone levels in Philadelphia leading to improved regional compliance with the [federal] Clean Air Act and reduced asthma hospitalizations and heart attacks.”
“Legacy pollution at the PES refinery location must be considered in the plans for future use for the site and potential for ongoing health impacts to people.  The site is in the midst of a PA Act 2 remediation with clean-up levels clearly in the industrial re-use range.
“The Philadelphia community has not been involved in the evaluation of the remediation plans or the establishment of clean-up levels as required by Act 2.  Perhaps this is why the established clean-up levels are extremely high.”
Dr. Howarth said during the more than 100 years of the refinery’s operation, “it is estimated that up to 53,000 barrels of gasoline each month was lost into the soil and groundwater due to leaking and spills.”
“The contaminated soil abuts the hard shore bulkhead at the Schuylkill River, a main source of drinking water for Philadelphia but the deeper aquifer is a drinking water source for NJ.  Recent data for the deeper aquifer has not been published on the Act 2 site as required by DEP, so it remains unclear what the current risk to NJ drinking water supplies is.”
“Sunoco, the responsible party, has decided that they will pursue a site-specific cleanup option rather than the stricter background standards or statewide health standards.  The selection of site-specific clean-up standards ensures that this property would not be safe for use for anything other than industrial purposes.
“This would be a permanently lost opportunity for the 1,400 land mass in the City of Philadelphia.”
Dr. Charles N. Haas, Betz Chair Professor of Environmental Engineering & Head, Dept. of Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering Drexel University, started his remarks by saying only “prompt action by plant personnel during the incident averted the release of hydrofluoric acid preventing a much more catastrophic event from occurring.
“The Philadelphia Fire Department and emergency responders must also be commended for actions taken to contain this event.”
“When release of contaminants into the atmosphere occur, the maximum concentrations travel along the direction of the prevailing wind. As shown by analysis of my colleague, Peter DeCarlo, none of the routine air monitoring locations were along the wind axis at the time of the fire, and therefore peak exposures could not be measured.
“Some of the peak exposures could have occurred in Southeast Philadelphia, and then after traversing the Delaware River, Southern New Jersey. In addition, a warm plume, such as from a fire, will tend to rise in the atmosphere, and the peak ground level concentrations will not occur until some distance downwind.
“The initial reports indicated no detection of adverse materials. The written testimony of Managing Director Abernathy provides some additional information. However, the full list of what was being measured and what the detection limits of the measurements were, have, to my knowledge, not been reported. 
“The latter is quite important, since unless the limits of detection were sufficiently low to detect concentrations at appropriate levels of concern for the general population (as opposed to emergency responders), assurances are of limited value.”
“The presence of dark gray or black smoke during the fire is indicative of the presence of products of incomplete combustion, unburnt hydrocarbons, and/or particulates released from the vent. 
“Some of these contaminants, beyond having impacts on immediate respiratory health, could have deposited on the ground for possible later resuspension, or on the Delaware River with impacts on aquatic resources. Absent a thorough environmental survey occurring more contemporaneously we cannot know.”
Andrew Williams, Director, Regulatory and Legislative Affairs Environmental Defense Fund, said, “ At a minimum, Pennsylvania policy options should include a state-based risk management framework for usage of hydrofluoric acid (HF), which is not otherwise covered by federal regulations, a requirement for third party engineering review of facility risk management plans, more transparent data policies with the goal of making data more accessible to first responders and the public, better shelter-in-place policies, and continued site monitoring. 
“PES is by far the largest source of toxic pollution in Philadelphia County, releasing some 600,000 pounds of toxic compounds in 2017. PES air toxic emissions are more than triple that of the next closest facility. 
“PES also contributes a significant majority of criteria air pollution emissions, which are harmful to human health and the environment and have been linked to increased rate of asthma and breathing problems, especially in children and elderly adults.”
“Residents of Philadelphia County need a better shelter in place system to ensure their safety. Shelter in place warnings should provide more details about the necessary steps individuals must take to protect themselves. 
“Explicit instructions to turn off air conditioning and close all doors and windows should be included to ensure that citizens are aware of all the steps they need to take.”
“While landline phones automatically receive shelter in place alerts, mobile phone users must opt in to the system, leaving gaps in coverage. The county and city government should examine expanding coverage of shelter in place alerts to all mobile users in the region to ensure all residents receive key updates and instructions.“
Williams also noted there few air monitors within the Philadelphia region especially for measuring individual air toxics. Often, there is no routine monitoring for certain air toxics, especially with regard to those toxics such as benzene and HF.
He said a plan should be developed to create a robust monitoring network to fill these gaps.
Additional EDF materials submitted to the Committee included: a petition to EPA to ban hydrofluoric acid in refineries and a U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board letter to EPA on its concerns with hydrofluoric acid.
The Committee was also provided with written comments by Brian Abernathy, Managing Director, City of Philadelphia, and Dr. Peter DeCarlo, Associate Professor in the Departments of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and Chemistry at Drexel University.
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing and for links to written comments.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to:   Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7105 or sending email to:

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