NPR

Refinery Explosions Raise New Warnings About Deadly Chemical

Chemical experts say recent refinery explosions could have been far more devastating if deadly hydrogen fluoride was released. Some are calling for a ban on the chemical.

In the pre-dawn hours of June 21, explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia shook houses, sent fireballs into the air and woke up nearby residents.

"Three loud explosions, one after the other, boom, boom boom!" says David Masur, who lives about two miles from the plant and has two young kids. "It's a little nerve-wracking."

Masur watched as the refinery spewed black smoke above the city, easily visible from his home. But what he didn't 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 manufacturers.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions knows that's a possibility. Its worst case disaster scenario includes 143,262 pounds of hydrogen fluoride released over 10 minutes, which could travel as a toxic cloud for more than 7 miles and impact more than a million people, including in schools, homes, hospitals, prisons, playgrounds, parks and a wildlife sanctuary.

City, state and federal officials

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min read
We Did It For The LOLs: 100 Favorite Funny Books
We thought you might need a laugh right about now, so this year's summer reader poll celebrates all the books (and one short story, and a few uncategorizable gems) that make you laugh out loud.
NPR3 min readPolitics
New California Law Says Police Should Kill Only When 'Necessary'
The legislation is a response to police killings of unarmed black men such as Stephon Clark. But critics say it doesn't go far enough.
NPR2 min readSociety
Spicy With A Twist: Nearly 4 Tons Of Pot Found In Jalapeno Shipment
Hundreds of bulky green packages were discovered amid the spicy chiles. The drugs seized at a San Diego cargo facility were valued at $2.3 million.