Philadelphia Energy Solutions explosion

Massive Oil Refinery Leaks Toxic Chemical in the Middle of Philadelphia

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is just one of a dozen refineries across the U.S. that have consistently exceeded the EPA's "action level" for benzene

big oil refinery explosion in philadelphia

Last May, an air monitor on the border of the East Coast's largest oil refinery recorded a level of benzene, a cancer-causing gas, more than 21 times the federal limit, NBC News reported.

In June, an explosive early morning fire rocked the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, terrifying nearby residents. Weeks after the disaster, as PES filed for bankruptcy and wound down operations, another air monitor in the network that rings the facility quietly registered the same sky-high reading for benzene. Long-term exposure to the sweet-smelling chemical has been linked to leukemia, lymphoma and a host of blood and immune system disorders.

That monitor, on the edge of this 1,300-acre complex of steel and pipe, is across an expressway from schools, parks, a strip mall and hundreds of homes.

Charles Reeves lives less than a mile and a half north of both air monitors in the largely African American neighborhood of Grays Ferry. A community organizer in this area of low-slung row houses, Reeves keeps tabs on the news in the neighborhood. He said no one informed him or his neighbors that they may have been exposed to benzene until he was contacted by NBC News, E&E News and the Investigative Reporting Workshop, a nonprofit newsroom based at American University.

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