There was an industrial fire in a crude unit at the Delaware City Refinery Sunday, but some of the causes remain unknown.
No one was injured during the fire that broke out in the crude unit around noon, officials said.
Spokespeople for the refinery, which is owned by a subsidiary of PBF Energy, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Delaware City Volunteer Fire Company did not immediately respond to calls for updates or comment.
After over 12 hours, the fire ended up extinguished at 1 a.m. Monday.
In addition, emergency responders shut down Del. 9 and Del. 72 and it took almost five hours to get the situation under control.
The fire resulted in the continuous release of an unknown amount of hydrogen sulfide, according to the state’s environmental release notification system. The public was not notified about that specific chemical release, according to the state’s list of recent environmental releases.
The fire also caused the release of an unknown amount of sulfur dioxide into the air.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, poisonous and flammable gas that smells like rotten eggs. Acute exposure to the chemical can impact heart rate, blood pressure, the respiratory system and may cause skin irritations, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and neurological effects such as giddiness, irritability and dizziness.
In worst cases, exposure can lead to coma or death, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s CAMEO Chemicals database.
Sulfur dioxide is a colorless, poisonous, corrosive gas that can have a choking or suffocating odor, according to CAMEO. That database states the chemical is “very toxic by inhalation and may irritate the eyes and mucous membranes. … It may cause death or permanent injury after very short exposure to small quantities.”
A “code orange” air quality alert was in effect before the fire was reported, which means air pollution concentrations within the region may be unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children, seniors and people suffering from heart disease, asthma or other lung diseases. The alert remained in effect Monday.
The wind on Sunday was blowing the smoke to the northwest and nearby fire companies received complaints from residents about the smell of chemicals in the air as far away as Newark and Wilmington.
There has been no word on what caused the fire. On Sunday, officials said they wouldn’t be able to determine that until the fire was out.
State and company officials were not sure how much hydrogen sulfide escaped during the fire. It is also unclear if the fire caused any other pollutants to escape.
It is unclear how far the smoke and chemicals from the fire spread. In addition, it is unknown when, or if, specific details about the cause of the fire and chemicals released during the fire will be provided by the state or company. DNREC’s environmental release system states “an updated posting will be made when total amounts are available.”