“Faulty, old pipe caused PES refinery explosion, sending a bus-size piece of debris flying across Schuylkill” – NPR

by Susan Phillips

Click the image to watch CSB’s two-minute animation. The federal Chemical Safety Board reported that the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery explosion in Philadelphia on Friday, June 21, 2019 released an estimated 5,239 pounds of highly toxic hydrogen fluoride. A 19-ton piece of hurled debris — about the same weight of a fully loaded Greyhound bus — landed almost a half mile away across the Schuylkill River.

PES estimated that 5,239 pounds of hydrofluoric acid released
from piping and equipment during the incident. . . . Dr. Ron Koopman, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory senior scientist (retired),  said the HF that was released at PES was likely dispersed by the intense explosion. “The explosion is nasty — it could kill people, but it’s not the principal hazard. It’s the toxic gas [HF] that could continue to be toxic downwind. Sometimes, the explosion and the fire is your friend.”

A piece of pipe, long overdue for replacement, spilled highly combustible hydrocarbons mixed with a dangerous chemical and caused the devastating explosions and fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in the early morning of June 21. One explosion sent a 38,000-pound vessel — about the same weight as a firetruck — across the Schuylkill River, where it landed on the waterway’s banks, near the company’s tank farm. PES estimates the incident released about 676,000 pounds of hydrocarbons, most of it — about 608,000 pounds — burned in the fire and explosions.

“PES had a policy that any pipe thinner than 0.18 inch would be replaced. The Chemical Safety Board’s investigation found that the ruptured pipe was only 0.012 inch thick [the thickness of three sheets of copy paper] — less than a tenth of the thickness that would have triggered a replacement.”

Those are some of the details in a report released Wednesday by the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. The report also says an estimated 3,271 pounds of the dangerous hydrofluoric acid was released into the atmosphere, while the refinery’s water spray system contained about 1,968 pounds of HF. The release of the chemical did not cause any injuries. City officials had previously reported they did not detect any HF escaping.

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Faulty, old pipe caused PES refinery explosion, sending a bus-size piece of debris flying across Schuylkill