The hazards of oil refineries and other industriesJune 26, 20192 min read
The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery will shut down as a result of its recent explosions and fires. Scott Jackson, PhD, visiting professor of Chemical Engineering at Villanova University, says there are two parts to contamination – surface contamination and contamination of the water underground beneath the oil refinery.
The surface contamination can be naturally bioremediated to some extent. At the worse, the surface can be removed and taken to a secure landfill or decontaminated by other means. However, organics like benzene, toluene and xylene (commonly known at BTX) that have reached deep into the underground water table beneath parts of the older parts of the plant can be difficult to remediate. An area of contaminated ground water must be pumped out using wells and treated on the surface using standard waste water treatment technologies. Remediating this pool of contaminated underground water can take years depending on its area and concentration.
Looking ahead, contaminated concrete will need to be removed to a secure landfill, and contaminated top soil would also need to be removed. Equipment can be sold for scrap metal. Depending on the extent of the ground contamination, the company could either encapsulate it with asphalt or concrete or return the land to a more natural condition with plantings.
Refineries aren’t the only operations at risk for potential incidents.
“All manufacturing operations, including processing of food, the manufacturing of electronic chips, plastics, paints, gasoline, and virtually everything that we use in our daily lives use potentially dangerous operations where risks associated with accidents must be managed. Some of the most dangerous industries might surprise you: Large breweries have recurrent incidents where workers die due to suffocation, caused by carbon dioxide. And dust explosions from the processing of sugar has caused terrible damage and loss of life. A fact that few people understand.”
The hazards of a refinery are more apparent than in other industries, so consequently many more people believe refineries are a dangerous place, but Jackson notes that, due to decision and risk analysis, refineries should be and generally are no more dangerous than someone driving their car to work.
To speak with Dr. Jackson, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 610-519-5152.