Philadelphia Refinery Explosion: Explosion and Fire Involving Vat of Butane at Philadelphia Energy Solutions

Homes as far away as south New Jersey were rocked by a series of explosions at a Philadelphia refinery that manufactures gasoline, jet fuel, and petrochemicals.

Philadelphia police and firefighters, and local refinery firefighter crews responded about 4:00 a.m. Friday June 21, 2019 to an explosion and fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions, 3144 Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia. Residents reported several explosions that were felt, seen and/or heard in South Jersey and Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Projectiles were seen rapidly flying from the blast center. The address is located in south Philadelphia, just east of the Philadelphia International Airport.

Residents in the Philadelphia area were awakened by multiple explosions and a massive fire at a 150-year-old refinery complex that continues to burn.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy reported that Philadelphia’s Emergency Office of Emergency Management officials initially asked people downwind and east of the fire to shelter in place as a precautionary measure because of plume smoke. The order was lifted about 7:00 a.m.

Portions of the I-76 expressway and the city’s Platt Bridge were closed after the fire, according to Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management.

One refinery employee complained of chest pains after the fire started, but that person did not need to be taken to a hospital, and no other injuries have been reported, according to Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy. No people were missing.

According to Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), the refinery is the 10th largest in the US and is the largest oil refining complex on the Eastern seaboard. Philadelphia Energy Solutions employs more than 1,000 people and refines 335,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

Butane is simple organic compound consisting of four carbon atoms and 10 hydrogen atoms. is one of the products — along with gasoline, heating oil and propane — that comes from the process of refining crude oil.

When oxygen is available, butane burns to form carbon dioxide and water vapor. When oxygen is limited, butane burns to form carbon (soot) or carbon monoxide may also be formed. Authorities are monitoring the air quality in the area. Other elements in the atmosphere can result in the production of nitrogen dioxide — a toxic, reddish brown gas with a pungent, acrid odor. Nitrogen dioxide can injure the respiratory epithelium, can cause bronchoconstriction, tissue inflammation of airways, reduced lung function, asthma attacks and negative cardiac effects and cardiovascular disease. At least one study has shown an increase in cardiovascular disease-related emergency room admissions related to atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide. Admission were related to elevated myocardial infarcions and hemorrhagic strokes.

According to the National Weather Service observations at Philadelphia International Airport nearby, the wind was Southwest 10 MPH at 3:54 a.m. Friday June 21, 2019. Other weather observations were Mostly Cloudy, 73°F with 90% Relative Humidity, and barometric pressure 29.49 inches.

PES employs an industrial hygienist to take air-quality readings. The area “is clear,” according to Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy. PES is also expected to continue to monitor the air in neighborhoods to the east. Initially it was unknown whether any government environmental officials were verifying the readings monitored by PES.

CNBC discusses gasoline futures after a fire and explosion at Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery. The refinery located outside Philadelphia is the longest continuously operating refinery on the East Coast. Gasoline futures are moving upwards on the news.

Collart P, Dubourg D, Levêque A, Sierra NB, Coppieters Y.
Short-term effects of nitrogen dioxide on hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease in Wallonia, Belgium. Int J Cardiol. 2018 Mar 15;255:231-236. Epub 2017 Dec 24.



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CBS Philly’s Chantee Lans reports on the Philadelphia Energy Solutions fire in southwest Philadelphia.