CSB Releases New Safety Video “Wake Up Call: Refinery Disaster in Philadelphia”
Washington D.C., October 27, 2022 - Today, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released a new safety video about the fire, explosions, and toxic hydrofluoric acid (HF) release that occurred at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 21, 2019. The incident caused the release of over 5,000 pounds of highly toxic HF, launched a 38,000-pound vessel fragment off-site, and resulted in an estimated property damage loss of 750 million dollars.
The safety video includes an animation of the sequence of events leading to the incident, and comments from the CSB’s Interim Executive Authority Steve Owens and Lead Investigator Lauren Grim.
At PES, a pipe elbow catastrophically failed due to hydrofluoric acid corrosion, which is a well-known safety hazard. Flammable process fluid escaped through the ruptured pipe elbow. Upon release, the process fluid formed a large ground-hugging vapor cloud about ten feet high that engulfed a portion of the refinery’s HF alkylation unit. The cloud ignited, causing the fire and series of explosions.
Because of the fire, a critical safeguard intended to protect the local community from a release of HF did not function as designed. HF is a highly toxic chemical that is particularly hazardous if a release occurs because it vaporizes, becoming airborne. Breathing HF can cause lung damage and skin contact with HF can cause severe burns and death. If a large amount of hydrofluoric acid had escaped from the refinery, the consequences for the surrounding community could have been disastrous.
In the video, Interim Executive Authority Owens says, “Thankfully, despite the urban location of the PES Refinery, the local community was not seriously harmed. But it could have been worse. This incident should be a wake-up call to industry and regulators to take every step possible to prevent a similar event from occurring.”
In its report, the CSB made recommendations to the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The recommendations are aimed strengthening industry standards and regulations regarding several key safety issues found at PES including a lack of remotely operated emergency isolation valves, the need to ensure safeguard reliability in HF alkylation units, and the consideration of inherently safer design.
The CSB’s core mission activities include conducting incident investigations; formulating preventive or mitigative recommendations based on investigation findings and advocating for their implementation; issuing reports containing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations arising from incident investigations; and conducting studies on chemical hazards.
The agency's board members are appointed by the president subject to Senate confirmation. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.
Please visit our website, www.csb.gov. For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen at Hillary.Cohen@csb.gov.