Environmentalists: Kensington Junk Yard Fire Was a “Preventable Disaster”
Members of the nonprofit Clean Air Council say they’ve detected poor air-quality levels at site of the blaze, which had been cited for numerous L&I violations in the last decade.
The massive junk yard blaze that consumed nearly a full block on the Kensington/Port Richmond border and produced plumes smoke that could be seen for miles on Tuesday was a “preventable air pollution disaster,” according to environmentalists.
The Clean Air Council (Philadelphia’s oldest environmental nonprofit) and the New Kensington Community Development Corporation say that city officials should have kept a closer eye on the junk yard near Tulip and East Somerset streets, where the fire broke out around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.
4 Alarm Junk Yard Fire with multiple special calls. 2nd Alarmers are in service with 6 rehab stations as well as a rehab post on a SEPTA bus for cooling.@PhillyFireDept @IAFF22 pic.twitter.com/bJMVYyYGkC
— 2ND ALARMERS (@PHILASACHIEF) July 11, 2018
The groups reference the multiple code violations that, according to public records, the site faced throughout the last 10 years. The citations, which were issued by the Department of Licenses and Inspections, include alleged an unsafe fence, excessive tire storage, and mislabeled containers.
The city took the company that owns the property, BMJ Holdings, to court in February and is seeking “strict” fines and penalties. Two court hearings have reportedly been held since February; a third is scheduled for August 30th.
In a statement, city officials said that at a hearing on May 24th, the city presented its case regarding recent violations, and the court gave BMJ Holdings time to repair the violations.
“It’s very difficult to get a business to shut down in the absence of an order from a judge, and the Court gave the owner the time to repair the violations,” a city spokesperson said. “The City has been very responsive and certainly has not ignored this but instead has pursued this matter as aggressively as possible in light of the violations. The City is hopeful that the Court process will lead to a successful resolution, the correction of the violations, and that the Court will impose strict fines and penalties against this owner for the continued noncompliance at the next hearing on August 30, 2018.”
One firefighter suffered non-life-threatening injuries while battling the blaze on Tuesday night. The cause of the fire is still unknown, and authorities are investigating. Officials told Philly.com that while they don’t believe the violations led directly to the fire, they were previously concerned that were there a fire at the junk yard, conditions at the sight could fanned the flames.
Andrew Goodman, director of community engagement for NKCDC, said the fire is “a terrifying example of what can go wrong on a site that isn’t properly monitored and maintained.”
Residents who live near the site of the blaze have since complained of smoke and poor air quality.
Port Richmond friends around where the Somerset fire was, I highly advise you to wear something over your nose and mouth if you have to go outside. The smoke is reaallllyy bad and I feel horrible right now. My lungs are very unhappy.
— DJ Poly D (@fkabinz) July 11, 2018
The Clean Air Council says it deployed air-monitoring devices in the area and found that exposure may cause health effects like breathing difficulty and increased risk of heart and lung disease.
Someone monitoring air quality near the #Philly fire at a Kensington scrapyard tells me the PM2.5 ug/m levels are 260. The 24-hour EPA standard (which is way too high) is 35. Today was already an air quality alert day in Philly, partly due to wildfires out west.
— Coryn Wolk (@CorynWolk) July 11, 2018
“Clean Air Council is using these monitors to track activity at scrap yards, educate the public, and hold scrapyards accountable,” said Karl Koerner, engineering/technical coordinator at Clean Air Council.