Tag Archives: hazardous wastes

The Toxic Shadow of Abandoned Oil Infrastructure

Wearing blue hard hats, white hazmat suits and respirator masks, workers carted away bags of debris on a recent morning from a sprawling and now-defunct oil refinery once operated by Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES). Other laborers ripped asbestos from the guts of an old boiler house, part of a massive demolition and redevelopment of the plant, which closed in 2019 after a series of explosions at the facility.

Plans call for the nearly 1,400-acre site to be transformed into a new commercial hub with warehousing and offices. All it will take is a decade, hundreds of millions of dollars, and confronting 150 years’ worth of industrial pollution, including buried rail cars and a poisonous stew of waste fuels poured onto the ground. A U.S. refinery cleanup of this size and scope has no known precedent, remediation experts said. It’s a glimpse of what lies ahead if the United States hopes to wean itself off fossil fuels and clean up the toxic legacy of oil, gas and coal.

President Joe Biden wants to bring the United States to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to fight climate change through a shift to clean-energy technologies, while reducing pollution in low-income and minority neighborhoods near industrial facilities. It’s a transition fraught with challenges. Among the biggest is what to do with the detritus left behind. The old PES plant is just one of approximately 135 oil refineries nationwide, to say nothing of the country’s countless gas stations, pipelines, storage hubs, drill pads and other graying energy infrastructure.

In Philadelphia, a private-sector company is taking the lead. Hilco Redevelopment Partners, a real estate firm that specializes in renovating old industrial properties, bought the PES refinery out of bankruptcy for $225.5 million in June…The full extent of the pollution won’t be understood for years. Also uncertain is the ability of the refinery’s previous owners to pay their share of the cleanup. The facility has had multiple owners over its lifetime and responsibility has been divided between them through business agreements and legal settlements.
Oil refining at the Philadelphia site began in 1870, 100 years before the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Gasoline, once a worthless byproduct of heating oil, was routinely dumped by the refinery into the soil, according to historians and researchers. Leaks and accidents spewed more toxins. The June 2019 blasts alone released 676,000 pounds of hydrocarbons, PES said at the time. The Philadelphia site is not unique. About half of America’s 450,000 polluted former industrial and commercial sites are contaminated with petroleum, according to the EPA.

Cleanup in Philadelphia will be painstaking. After asbestos abatement comes the demolition and removal of 3,000 tanks and vessels, along with more than 100 buildings and other infrastructure, the company said. Then comes the ground itself. Hilco’s Perez said dirt quality varies widely on the site and will have to be handled differently depending on contamination levels. Clearing toxins like lead must be done with chemical rinses or other technologies…The site also has polluted groundwater and giant benzene pools lurking underneath, according to environmental reports Sunoco filed over the years with the federal and state governments.

Excerpts from Laila Kearney, 150 years of spills: Philadelphia refinery cleanup highlights toxic legacy of fossil fuels, Reuters, Feb. 16, 2021
 

Tricks of Illegal Waste Dumping

The US Navy has launched its own investigation into allegations that its contractor has been dumping on Subic Bay hazardous wastes which it siphons from US Navy ships docked here.  In an e-mailed statement on Saturday, Cynthia Cook, deputy press attache of the US Embassy in Manila, said the US Navy had “initiated its own inquiry into allegations of hazardous waste dumping by Glenn Defense Marine Philippines, a contractor for the US Navy in the Philippines.”  Cook said the embassy was aware of the investigation being conducted by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), and that it would “take appropriate action depending on the outcome of those processes.”

The SBMA board of directors is meeting on Monday to discuss the results of the initial investigation into the reported dumping by Glenn Defense Marine Philippines, the local operator of the Malaysian-owned Glenn Defense Marine Asia, said SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia.  In a letter to the SBMA earlier, the lawyers of Glenn Defense claimed that the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM) was the only agency authorized to address complaints about toxic dumping at Subic Bay.  Also on Saturday, the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce announced it had suspended the membership of Glenn Defense, a registered locator of the Subic Bay Freeport.

Danny Piano, SBFCC president, said the group was aware of the alleged dumping in Subic waters since October. He said the chamber’s environmental committee has been on the lookout for potential environmental problems around the freeport.  Piano recounted: “At around 8 a.m. on Oct. 15, members of the committee spotted a marine [vessel] collecting liquid waste from a US Navy ship at Alava Pier. They became curious [as to] why a [ship], and not a [sewage] truck, would be performing waste collection [for] a naval ship already berthed at a pier…  “Sensing potential hazard, the members reported the situation to the SBMA ecology department for a spot check and to make sure that proper procedures were followed in dumping the waste.”

The vessel, MT Glenn Guardian, had been carrying around 50,000 gallons of domestic waste and around 200 gallons of bilge water (or a combination of water, oil, and grease), which were untreated according to laboratory tests, Piano said.

By Robert Gonzaga, US Navy begins inquiry into toxic waste dumping, Inquirer Central Luzon, Nov. 10, 210