In the summer of 2019, an explosion shook the largest oil refinery on the east coast. Smoke filled the sky over the southern Philadelphia neighborhood where the plant was located. It was later reported that around 600. 000 pounds of hydrocarbons were burned. More than 5. 000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid, a dangerous chemical that can cause blindness, burns, and other injuries, has also been released into the air.
Nevertheless, no evacuation order was issued to the surrounding communities. City officials issued a temporary warning on site, reassuring residents that the air was safe. For the Philadelphia network of air quality monitors, operated by the city and feeding data into the Environmental Protection Agency’s national air monitoring system, the air looked average – no flaw in the data.
« The nationwide network of 3. 900 monitors routinely overlooked critical toxic releases and everyday pollution hazards, « wrote Reuters reporters Tim McLaughlin, Laila Kearney and Laura Sanicola. Ten of the biggest refinery explosions in the last decade? Tiny, toxic particles that filled the air, entered people’s lungs, and resulted in thousands of hospital stays? If you just looked at the EPA’s air quality data, none of that ever happened.
In the case of the Philadelphia refinery, the closest EPA air quality monitor to the incident was simply out of order on the morning of the explosion – it was programmed to collect data only every six days. The same thing happened in Richmond, California in 2012 when an explosion occurred at a chevron refinery. The closest EPA air quality monitor only took samples every 12 days. This day? No dice.
Intermittent surveillance wasn’t the only problem Reuters uncovered, however. Some of the network monitors are unable to see the smaller particles that are created when toxic chemicals such as benzene and other hydrocarbons involved in the refining process burn. These « fine particles » can enter the bloodstream and cause all kinds of medical problems, including lung and heart disease. Reuters reported that 120 million Americans live in counties without an EPA system to detect these particles. For example, residents of Superior, Wisconsin, a city of 27. 000 residents, no way of knowing what they were breathing after an oil refinery exploded in 2018 and covered the city with black smoke.
The failures of the federal air quality monitoring network are not only a problem in the event of disasters, but also form the backbone of the air quality index. If you’ve ever checked your weather app on a damp summer day or after a nearby forest fire and you’ve been warned that the air quality was at dangerous levels, it is in part thanks to the EPA’s air quality monitors. People with pre-existing health conditions rely on these warnings to be safe. Data from these monitors also informs about air quality permits for new industrial facilities and helps determine whether an area may already be too full of polluting facilities to invite a new one.
Researchers and current and past regulators told Reuters that the system’s flaws were due to poor funding, poor monitor placement, and faulty or inadequate technology. Corbett Grainger, professor of environmental economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducted a study on the selection of surveillance sites and found that in some cases, state regulators placed monitors in areas with clean air, helping the industry with regulatory ramifications for the industry Avoid exceeding pollution standards.
The EPA declined to comment on this study and denied that their system had any problems with accuracy or reliability. “We are confident that the surveillance network will provide data that enables decision-makers – states, public health officials, and so on. . – Make informed decisions about public health, « the EPA told Reuters in a statement.
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Oil Refinery, Air Pollution, Pakistan, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Earth’s Atmosphere, AvePoint, Refinery
World News – US – Why Did EPA Air Monitors Not Detect Oil? Refinery explosion?
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