Incident basics and investigation
What caused the explosions and fire at the PES refinery on June 21, 2019?
The cause and origin of the explosions and fire remain under investigation by local, state, and federal agencies.
When will the investigations be complete?
Given the complexities of this incident and the continued work to support the ongoing emergency response at the site, we anticipate that the investigations will take months to complete.
Who is responsible for the investigations and the ongoing emergency response?
Multiple local, state, and federal agencies have been on-site since the incident to perform coordinated, multi-disciplinary, and thorough investigations—all while providing close oversight and operational support for the ongoing emergency response.
- Philadelphia Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office and
- Hazardous Materials Administrative Unit
- Philadelphia Police Department
- Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management
- Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
Is the incident under control? What does “under control” mean in this case?
No, this incident is not under control because it remains an active scene for our emergency response units. Teams from the Philadelphia Fire Department have been on-site 24/7 since the explosion on June 21, 2019. The Emergency Operations Center, maintained by the Office of Emergency Management, also has been active every day to ensure agency coordination and resource requests.
Additionally, the EPA, Fire Department, and Health Department have been conducting ongoing air monitoring, and our fully staffed Emergency Operations Center has been active every day since the incident.
When will it be under control?
We will consider the incident under control when we are confident that all remaining hazards at the site have been addressed. We currently do not have a timeline for this.
Are residents safe while the refinery is shutting down?
Yes, we are running constant tests and continuing our emergency response activations to ensure the safety and protection of people, property, and the environment. Air monitoring is ongoing.
What’s the purpose of the HF (hydrofluoric acid) neutralization process?
The process will offset the toxicity of the HF and make it possible to dispose of the remaining HF at the site. It’s one of the highest priorities for the emergency team.
How long will it take?
It’s difficult to predict, given the sensitive nature of the process. Every day that neutralization occurs means there is less HF on site. It could be weeks or even months, depending on a number of factors.
Future of the site
Why isn’t the City stepping in to dictate the future of the refinery site?
The City’s authority and control over the future of the site is very limited. The site is privately owned, and its use pre-dates most zoning restrictions. Its existing zoning allows the most permissive heavy industrial use. Check out the presentation from the first Advisory Group meeting for more details.
What will PES do with the site? Sell to a new refinery operator? Redevelop the site for something else?
Right now, we don’t know what will happen with the site.
What we do know:
- The 1,300-acre site is important to the regional economy. The refinery supports thousands of jobs and a highly skilled workforce, and it plays an important role in the regional petroleum market and supply chain.
- The refinery site also has endured extensive soil and groundwater pollution during its long history of refinery operations, and that will limit the types of uses that are possible. Much of the pollution occurred before environmental regulations existed.
The purpose of the Refinery Advisory Group is to understand and plan for potential outcomes.
Refinery Advisory Group
What is the mission of the Refinery Advisory Group?
The group is charged with making sure that City officials and stakeholders know as much as possible about the site and its future; that information must include as many different viewpoints as possible.
The Refinery Advisory Group includes four committees—community, labor, academic/environmental, and business. The subgroups will focus on presenting a full picture of those specific areas in the final report.
Who are the members of the Refinery Advisory Group?
The members are listed on the Advisory Group website.
When will the group publish its recommendations?
We will release the report in fall 2019—after gathering feedback from the public and from various organizations and stakeholder groups. It will be posted on the Refinery Advisory Group website.
What’s the purpose of the report?
Although the City has limited control over the PES site, we have a responsibility to plan for possible scenarios in the future. We must fully understand the effects any outcome will have on Philadelphia’s economy, environment, public health, and safety.