Philadelphia Refinery Explosion – Air Quality Impact

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On Friday, June 21, 2019 at 4:00 a.m., a massive series of explosions erupted on a South Philadelphia refinery complex. According to the Philadelphia Fire Department, a vat of butane had ignited and eventually exploded. The fire caused a thick cloud of smoke to cover the neighboring areas, particularly concentrated east of the refinery.

Antonios Tasoglou, Ph.D. of RJ Lee Group loads the PTR-TOF-MS into the mobile laboratory.
Antonios Tasoglou, Ph.D. at RJ Lee Group, loads the PTR-TOF-MS into the mobile laboratory.

RJ Lee Group deployed its mobile air monitoring lab, equipped with the PTR-TOF-MS, to the area on Friday afternoon to perform air monitoring in the area surrounding the refinery. The PTR-MS is the ideal instrument for real-time, continuous volatile organic compound (VOC) testing and plume tracking. Continuous air monitoring for VOCs and particulate matter were performed around the refinery, primarily downwind from the fire. By Friday night, the fire was extinguished, and the mobile lab was parked and put in stationary analysis mode for overnight testing two miles downwind from the refinery.

The mobile monitoring continued into New Jersey Saturday morning to further investigate the impact in residential and business areas. In total, 16 hours of continuous monitoring were performed. Qualitative analyses of the data show no apparent elevation in VOCs in the neighboring areas. Quantitative results will be available this week after thorough investigation of the spectra.

The Department of Public Health has also performed canister sampling at two locations in proximity of the refinery, with no apparent elevated concentration of harmful emissions.