Hazardous waste storage areas at former refinery site could close within a year

In another sign of transformation at the 1,000-acre site, the last hazardous waste storage areas are expected to formally close within a year.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery on August 8, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery on August 8, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

The redevelopment of the former Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery is moving a step forward, with the formal closure of hazardous waste storage areas on the site.

The former PES refinery — with its jungle of pipes, thousands of tanks and vessels, and more than 100-year history as an industrial site — is 88% demolished. The new owner, Hilco Redevelopment Partners (HRP), plans to turn it into a warehousing and life sciences hub called the Bellwether District. This process includes getting rid of hazardous waste, which the developers plan to do within a year.

“These were legacy storage locations that we are now looking to close in coordination and consistent with our plan to develop the property,” said HRP Senior Vice President of Operations Stephanie Eggert during a public meeting Wednesday about the planned closure of the hazardous waste areas.

The refinery had three permitted areas to store hazardous waste, including wastewater used in the oil refining process.

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Waste has been removed from two of these areas — one on the northern and one on the southern portion of the site.

The third, also on the southern portion of the site, is being used to store waste that comes from the process of tearing down the refinery and cleaning up the site. A variety of waste is currently allowed to be stored there, including waste containing arsenic, lead, and cancer-causing benzene, ignitable or corrosive waste, and petroleum-based sediments and sludges associated with refining, according to Jamar Thrasher, spokesperson at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

But HRP plans to begin closing this last area in April 2023, by taking the waste and any containers offsite, washing, breaking up, and removing the concrete pad, and sampling the soil underneath for potential contamination — including benzene and lead. The northernmost hazardous waste storage area is already in the soil testing process, and HRP says it’s waiting for DEP input to start soil testing on the other southern storage area.

“Why we’re doing it is to see chemically if any releases did occur beneath this pad, because we can’t always see the contamination just by looking at it,” said Julianna Connolly, executive vice president for environmental remediation with HRP.

The storage areas were designed to contain hazardous waste without spills, according to DEP.

“If a leak did occur, it should have been contained and cleaned up without being released to the environment,” Thrasher said, in an emailed response to questions.

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DEP will need to approve the testing and cleanup of the areas. HRP has already begun the formal closure process with the state for the northernmost storage area, and hopes to finish the process of formally closing the two southern areas over the next 9 to 12 months.

Hilco plans to start prepping the site for warehouse construction in January and start “vertical” construction in the spring.

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