PECO: It Wasn’t an Explosion at Substation That Sent Foam Into Streets

Fire-suppressant foam covered Center City streets over the weekend after a transformer shut down at a PECO substation. It was not hazardous.

Foam on Juniper Street

Photo | Dan McQuade

It was an instant Philadelphia gathering.

On Saturday, I was in a car heading down Pine Street. We were rushing to get home. But suddenly I told my girlfriend to stop and park: There was foam all over the streets. We had to see this.

Everyone else passing by had the same idea. The intersection of Pine and Juniper streets was an instant party; people were taking photos of the foam, then turning their cameras around to take selfies. One man took it upon himself to tell everyone that the foam was cancerous, and to stay out of it. When I tweeted a photo of the foam, I got a reply with a photo from the other side of the foam, near Lombard Street. It was a party on both sides of the foam!

It was cleanup day in Wash West, and I thought at first street cleaning had just gone really freaking well. But it quickly became apparent the foam was a fire suppressant from the PECO substation at Juniper and Waverly streets. Early news reports labeled the foam the result of an “explosion” at the plant.

But on Monday PECO said it was nothing of the sort. A transformer glitch had caused the problem.

PECO spokesman Ben Armstrong told reporters a circuit breaker went offline, which caused a transformer to flash momentarily, then shut down with a loud popping sound. That outage caused fire-suppressant foam to fill the substation, which then leaked to the outside, in part by the roof.

The foam, contrary to the man on the street, was not toxic. I could’ve run through it! That’s the last time I listen to that dude.