The refinery in South Philadelphia was broken down into 11 areas of interest for cleanup plans by Sunoco and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The following is a summary of the contamination at each, according to site characterization, memos and other documents filed for the plans, which are in the process of being reviewed by officials for approval as part of Pennsylvania’s Act 2 Land Recycling Program for brownfields. Sunoco owned the site from the 1980s through 2012, but much contamination occurred during the prior 100 years. Sources: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Evergreen Resources Group.
Area of Interest 1
Known as the No. 1 and No. 2 tank farms, this area comprises 67 acres and contains 35 above-ground storage tanks used to store petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, petroleum distillates, and gasoline additives for blending. There is also a network of underground pipes.
Contamination Investigation: About 160 wells at the site have been installed, and 250 soil and 1,200 groundwater samples taken. Among the findings: benzene, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and petroleum hydrocarbon contaminant known as light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL). A study of groundwater flow suggests contaminated water may have infiltrated the city’s sewers along S. 26th St. through breaks, separations, or deteriorated joints in sewer pipes.
Status: Some cleanup has occurred along S. 26th Street. Wells to recover contaminated groundwater are installed. Evergreen Resources Group operates a biofilter installed in 1998 to remove vapors from city sewers. Fifteen wells have been installed as part of a system to cleanup LNAPLs.
Area of Interest 2
Known as the Point Breeze Processing Area, this 111-acre parcel borders the Schuylkill River. It now contains office buildings, but was once used for petroleum processing and storage, as well as wastewater treatment.
Contamination Investigation: A 2017 report to the state DEP showed compounds such as lead and benzo(a)pyrene in the soil. Excess levels of benzene and MTBE were detected in groundwater samples. LNAPLs were found.
Status: Hundreds of wells have been installed to collect fluid and treat it on site, and hundreds of water and soil samples have been taken. Those exceeding state standards will be remediated. Most LNAPLs detected near Pollock Street are recovered and recycled.
Area of Interest 3
Known as the Point Breeze Impoundment Area, this 107-acre parcel on the Schuylkill includes a tank farm and stormwater retention basins. Above-ground storage tanks and pipelines contributed to contamination over decades.
Contamination Investigation: Lead and benzo(a)pyrene exceeded state standards in soil. Benzene and MTBE were detected in groundwater above state standards. LNAPL plumes were found in groundwater.
Approximately 90 monitoring wells have been installed, and 150 soil and 450 groundwater samples have been collected. Thousands of gallons of LNAPL were recovered and recycled.
Status: Plans call for remediation of any contaminants, such as lead, found in soil above state and federal standards. Contaminants in groundwater exceeding standards are contained within the confines of the complex.
Area of Interest 4
Known as the No. 4 Tank Farm, this 106-acre site contains aboveground tanks built in the mid- to late-1900s to store crude oil and gas. Infrastructure includes pipes above and below ground and a pumphouse.
Contamination Investigation: The state DEP cited “numerous, widespread” amounts of benzene in excess of state standards. Testing showed about 20 compounds exceeding state standards in groundwater. Other chemicals found in excessive amounts include 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, toluene and naphthalene.
About 100 monitoring wells have been installed, and 300 soil and 600 groundwater samples taken. LNAPL contaminated part of the water table.
Evergreen is still investigating the southern portion of the property to look into contamination off-site near Penrose Ave.
Status: Three remediation systems are in place, including 20 wells that have recovered about 2,900 gallons LNAPL. Approximately 16 million gallons of groundwater were recovered and discharged into the Philadelphia Water Department’s sewer system under a permit to do so.
Evergreen also operates a remediation system near the boundary with Penrose Ave., where dissolved oxygen is used to accelerate cleanup of groundwater.
Area of Interest 5
Known as the Girard Point South Tank Field, this 114-acre parcel in the southernmost portion of the complex included packaging, rail, truck and marine transfer stations. Currently, the site consists of tanks, old warehouses, a benzene rail unloading area, and docks. In 2014, Philadelphia Energy Solutions installed a butane rail facility.
Contamination Investigation: Lead, benzene, and cumene were found in soil in excess of state standards. Benzene and MTBE were found to exceed state standards in groundwater. Benzene was found in a few wells, but not near the Schuylkill.
About 200 wells gauge contamination. Hundreds of groundwater samples have been taken, as well as samples of LNAPL.
Status: Plans call for contaminants, such as lead, found in soil above standards to be remediate to federal and state requirements.
Area of Interest 6
Known as Girard Point Chemicals Processing Area, this 117-acre site borders the Schuylkill. Operations included petroleum and chemical processing, steam boiler plants, storage tanks, oil and water separation, and a lab.
Contamination Investigation: Soil and groundwater contamination was caused by petroleum operations as well as from leaks from tanks and pipelines. Benzene was the most frequent chemical detected, but was confined to one area.
Benzene and lead were found in the soil above state standards. In addition, benzene, ethylbenzene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, cumene, toluene, naphthalene, and lead were found above the standard for potential migration from soil to groundwater.
Monitoring wells and samples showed levels of benzene, cumene, toluene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene,, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, chrysene, naphthalene, and lead above the non-residential groundwater standard in a limited area. LNAPL was also found. Contaminants from various petroleum products were detected and contained.
Status: A dozen recovery wells removed 12,900 gallons of LNAPL. That system is no longer operating because of the lack of recoverable LNAPLs.
Area of Interest 7
Known as the Girard Point Fuels Processing Area, this site spans 130 acres bordering the Schuylkill. A number of incidents at tanks on the site have occurred. The site has been used for petroleum processing, and underground and aboveground storage. Operations included refining units, a hazardous waste incinerator, a wastewater treatment plant and various buildings.
Contamination Investigation: Hundreds of soil samples were taken for the presence of VOCs, SVOCs, lead and mercury. Almost all sample results found contaminants that exceeded standards. Testing found benzene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, naphthalene, lead, mercury and chromium above standards for potential migration from soil to groundwater.
More than 100 wells have been installed and samples showed benzene, isopropyl benzene, 1,2-dibromoethane, toluene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, xylenes, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(g,h,i)pyrene, benzo(g)fluoranthene, chrysene, naphthalene, and lead above standards set for non-residential use of groundwater.
Status: Evergreen installed a remediation system along the Schuylkill that includes 10 wells to recover contaminated water. About 112,000 gallons of LNAPL have been recovered.
Area of Interest 8
The largest parcel of the refinery, this area spans about 250 acres bordering the Schuylkill and is known as the Point Breeze Refinery North Yard. It was home to the complex’s first refinery, where crude oil operations started in the late 1800s and continued through the 1900s.
Currently, it contains 13 aboveground storage tanks, most of which were built in the mid-1900s. During its operation, the refinery and tanks were used to refine crude oil or gasoline, asphalt, wax, acid and lubricating oil. In the late 1900s, Sunoco primarily used this area to unload oil, storage and distribution.
Contamination Investigation: Soil contamination stretches to the river bank. “Swaths of contaminated oil are found across the entire site …,” reads one DEP document.
About 60 soil samples exceeded state standards. Among the compounds found in the soil: benzene, naphthalene, ethylbenzene, total xylenes, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(a)fluoranthene, lead, and nickel.
Approximately 20 compounds were found above selected standards in the unconfined aquifer, a shallow water-bearing unit vulnerable to surface contamination. There are approximately three benzene plumes in groundwater, two of which are present across the property boundary. The source of the cross-property plumes is not clear because the refinery borders other facilities with similar contamination, including facilities owned by PGW and Verizon.
Plumes containing LNAPL also are present under wide portions of the site. At least five leaks of LNAPLs have been documented.
In 2019, the DEP recommended continued monitoring of a plume of benzene contaminated water running under the property.
Status: Three remediation systems were put in place with 20 recovery wells. As of 2016, the wells had recovered 70 million gallons of groundwater and 40,000 gallons of LNAPL.
Evergreen is installing two new systems to address contamination along the property boundaries at Maiden Lane and along the border with PGW’s Passyunk Facility. The new systems will recover LNAPL and groundwater, and includes recent installation of 30 recovery wells, five monitoring wells, and one horizontal recovery well.
Area of Interest 9
The history of the 211-acre Schuylkill River Tank Farm dates to the late 1800s. Used to store and blend petroleum products, it feeds into pipelines running beneath the Schuylkill. Three aquifers lie under the site.
Contamination Investigation: About 100 wells have been installed for sampling, and hundreds of soil and groundwater samples have been taken to assess contamination stemming from leaks in some of 37 tanks at the site.
Lead, VOCs and benzo(b)fluoranthene exceeded standards in multiple locations. Petroleum-related compounds, such as benzene and MTBE, were detected in groundwater samples above state standards.
To evaluate the potential migration of groundwater off the site, five monitoring wells were installed in 2018 west of the area's boundary; results are pending.
Status: Evergreen says contaminants exceeding standards in the soil will be remediated to state and federal standards, and that it will investigate potential groundwater migration beyond the complex.
Area of Interest 10
Known as the Point Breeze West Yard, the parcel bordering Passyunk Avenue covers 80 acres, most of which is now open space. Prior uses included above-ground petroleum storage in tanks, pump stations and waste disposal. The area containing waste disposed of in the mid-20th century was capped with clay in the 1980s.
Contamination Investigation: Soil samples from outside the former waste disposal areas showed benzene, benzo(a)pyrene, PCE, arsenic, manganese, and lead above non-residential standards. Samples collected within the same area showed excessive concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene, dibenzo(a,h)anthracene, manganese, and lead.
Samples collected below the waste material found excessive benzene, benzo(a)pyrene, naphthalene, arsenic, barium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, and thallium.
Three dozen wells have been installed to monitor groundwater, but modeling suggests it is unlikely that the benzene, chrysene, naphthalene, and lead in the groundwater will move offsite.
Lands Creek runs through the site, and sediments have shown excessive contaminant levels. However, the DEP approved a report in 2016 that found no significant risk to the creek.
Status: Evergreen is preparing a cleanup plan, particularly regarding benzo(a)pyrene and lead in the soil.
Area of Interest 11
This refers to aquifers under the complex. The aquifers include the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy, which holds billions of gallons of fresh water deep beneath the ground that contribute to drinking water in South Jersey. A layer of clay helps protect the PRM aquifer from contamination in much of the refinery property.
Contamination Investigation: More than 70 wells have produced 700 water samples, some of which showed benzene, naphthalene, MTBE, chrysene, arsenic, and cobalt in excess of standards.
DEP noted high levels of manganese and iron, but Evergreen notes these naturally occurring compounds were able to dissolve into the groundwater due to historic pumping from numerous parts of South Philadelphia, including the Naval Shipyard.
Sunoco drilled 45 wells, and pulled samples up through 2013 showing benzene, naphthalene, MTBE, chrysene, arsenic and cobalt in excess of standards in some wells.
Status: Sunoco determined in 2013 that no remediation was needed because no contaminants would reach the rivers. Evergreen said there are no residential or agricultural wells within a mile, meaning to risk to nearby water users. However, a DEP official concluded Sunoco had not adequately evaluated potential exposure to the New Jersey water supply.