After a Naphtha chemical leak at the PBF Refinery Wednesday, officials debated whether they should open nearby Paulsboro High School the following day.
But the Fire Chief Alfonso Giampola said the school will open at its regularly scheduled time the next day.
The chief said he, county HAZMAT crews, state Department of Environmental Protection and Environmental Protection Agency workers along with refinery officials came to a consensus that parts per million (ppm) readings at the school were at acceptable levels.
Readings on Wednesday showed 3 to 5 ppm on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the junior high school wing, which were “concerning levels,” Giampola said.
A chemical leak at PBF Refinery that started Monday and got progressively worse sent 16 Paulsboro High School students and faculty members to a local hospital Wednesday morning.
According to Mark Wilgus, a spokesman for PBF Refinery, the product has been leaking from a broken seal on the top of a tank since Monday, causing an odor throughout the borough.
Naphtha, a liquid hydrocarbon mixture, is a partially refined product that is extremely flammable and irritating to the eyes and respiratory system. It can also affect the central nervous system.
A high vapor concentration of the product can cause irritation and discomfort to the eyes and slight irritation to the skin, according to its material safety data sheet. Vapors can also cause “central nervous system depression.”
Ventilation systems ran through the overnight hours to help clear out any remaining fumes inside the building, Giampola said, and they found nothing else of concern in the school.
Readings early Thursday took a sharp drop to around .03 to .05, Giampola said, adding something as small a banana peel in a trash can will give you a reading due to the carbon dioxide coming off it.
Wilgus said the facility is planning for normal operations on Thursday. Tests also occurred at the Billingsport and Loudenslager elementary schools, where test levels were “void of any readings,” Wilgus said.
“The refinery is anticipating going through the community three times today,” along with going around the schools to take readings, Giampola said.
“We’ll continue to monitor in the community,” Wilgus said, adding the company fully expects the tank issue they’ve been dealing with since Monday has fully concluded.
The students and teachers went to Inspira Medical Center on Wednesday, including one student who was unresponsive, Paulsboro police said.
Fumes permeated throughout the borough since Monday, said school Superintendent Walter Quint said, but air monitoring had not indicated a dangerous level until Wednesday.
Wilgus said repairing the ruptured seal was a “process that was quite involved and took longer than anybody would like.”
At a rate of hundreds of barrels an hour, the refinery is pumping out the remaining product from the tank in question and hope to have the process completed Thursday. At that time, Giampola said refinery officials will go inside to inspect the seal and figure out why it closed on an angle, which contributed to the leak.