Months after a South Philadelphia refinery exploded and went up in flames, the city’s mayor is proposing a ban on the toxic chemical that subsequently seeped into the air.
Mayor Jim Kenney on Thursday will send legislation to the City Council that bans the use of hydrogen fluoride at refineries within the city, his press office announced. The move comes after the June 21, 2019 blast and fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, which burned for two days in South Philadelphia.
“With the passage of this legislation, large quantities of HF will never return to the Philadelphia refinery site again. I urge other communities, as well as the federal government, to follow Philadelphia’s lead and phase out the use of HF in the refining industry entirely – for the safety of the workers as well as nearby communities,” Kenney said in a statement.
Hydrogen fluoride, also known as hydrofluoric acid and HF, is often used by refineries as a catalyst to create high-octane fuel. About 40 refineries across the U.S. use HF, according to the mayor’s office.
The chemical can form a toxic cloud at room temperature that travels low to the ground. If HF comes into contact with human tissue, it can cause burns and even cardiac arrest.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board found that more than 5,200 pounds of the chemical was released after a decades-old pipe burst at the South Philadelphia refinery.
"That's a massive release," said Peter DeCarlo an air quality expert and Drexel University professor. "Based on what we've seen and based on the lack of major health impacts, which would have been clearly observed, we dodged a fairly substantial bullet."
The refinery was the largest on the East Coast and was Philadelphia's largest polluter for decades. Its origins as an industrial site go back two centuries.
Following the explosion, Philadelphia Energy Solutions declared bankruptcy and the refinery was shut down.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the district where the refinery is located, will introduce Kenney's bill to the City Council on Thursday.