In the predawn hours of June 21, a blast at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia shook houses, sent fireballs into the air and awoke nearby residents.
“Three loud explosions, one after the other, increase, growth!” says David Masur, who lives about two miles from the plant and has two youngsters.
Masur watched as the refinery emit black smoke above the city, easily visible from his home. But what he did not know at the time was just how close he and his family came to getting exposed to hydrogen fluoride, one of the deadliest chemicals used by refiners and other industrial producers.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions knows that’s a possibility. Its worst-case disaster scenario consists of 143,262 pounds of hydrogen fluoride released over 10 minutes, which could travel as a toxic cloud for more than 7 miles and influence more than one million individuals, including schools, houses, hospitals, a wildlife sanctuary, prisons, playgrounds, and parks.
City, state and federal officials mentioned none of the air monitors in or around the refinery or the air samples collected by the city’s health department detected the chemical, often referred to as HF. And a spokeswoman for Philadelphia Energy Solutions says no employees were exposed.