Acid leak a concern

“Given the unit’s deplorable safety history, it is not surprising there was a serious acid leak,” said plaintiff attorney Larry Bendesky. “It is a miracle nobody was killed.”

Four ironworkers exposed to a potentially lethal acid during a March 2009 leak at Sunoco’s South Philadelphia refinery filed suit last week claiming the company knowingly exposed them to hazardous conditions.

Twelve workers were hospitalized after the highly toxic gaseous form of hydrofluoric acid was released. The four plaintiffs claim “they were told by refinery supervisors that since [the unit] was shut down and depressurized, they would be safe without having to even bring external breathing apparatus or wear enhanced protective clothing.”

James Jamison said the leak occurred while he was reinforcing steel.

“Everything went dark, I was choking for air and all I could think of was that with two young kids, I wasn’t ready to die,” said Jamison, who still receives treatment for pulmonary and coronary irregularities for potentially permanent heart-and-lung issues. He hasn’t returned to work.

Sunoco spokesman Thomas Golembeski couldn’t speak about the lawsuit, but pointed out “there was no off-site or community impact.” He added that the refinery is using a modified form of hydrofluoric acid.

“We’ve heard that a bunch of times,” said Brady Russell of Clean Water Action, whose worst-case gas-leak scenario “would kill everybody in Philadelphia if the wind’s blowing north. … If they’re really using the modified form, we’re a lot safer.”

The suit alleges negligence, willful and wanton misconduct and loss of consortium.

Fall out

The 2009 leak resulted in four “serious” OSHA violations.

It was mentioned in an ABC News report last week about the “ticking time bomb” of 16 million Americans living within range of toxic plumes from refineries with “deadly chemical and dismal safety records.”


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