Philadelphia Explosion and an Indian Spy

Grind for July 23rd
“Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.” – Voltaire

Near Miss

The Headline

Philadelphia refinery shuts down after explosion

The Grind

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery erupted into flames on June 21st, sending smoke and fireballs into the air and rattling nearby houses.

“Three loud explosions, one after the other, boom, boom boom!” says David Masur, who lives with his family just two miles from the plant. “It’s a little nerve wracking.”

The Details

The explosion destroyed the facility’s alkylation unit and led to the closure of the refinery – but it could have been much worse.

The refinery’s alkylation unit utilizes hydrogen fluoride (HF) – a colorless, corrosive gas – to convert crude oil into high-octant gasoline. HF is one of the deadliest chemicals used in manufacturing.

The refinery’s worst-case scenario involves the release of a giant cloud of HF that could travel 7 miles and affect more than 1 million people. There would be no time to evacuate.

“People should never have been allowed to live this close to these refineries,” says Ron Koopman, a physicist and expert on chemical safety who conducted tests on HF back in the 1980’s. “It’s just unconscionable to have allowed that to happen.”

Philadelphia officials have confirmed that no HF was released by the explosion in June, but the incident has renewed a push to stop using the toxic chemical.

The Takeaway

Two other refineries in Philadelphia use HF, as do dozens of plants throughout the country.

In a 2013 report, the United Steelworkers union warned that these refineries lacked adequate safety measures to prevent the release of HF. According to the report, roughly 12,000 workers and 13 million people were at risk of exposure.

The report cited 131 “HF-related incidents or near misses” between 2010 and 2012, and called to phase out the use of HF.

Despite the obvious dangers, the industry continues to defend its use of HF as the most effective way to produce high-octane gas. The EPA hasn’t reviewed refineries’ risk management plans since 1993.

“Don’t look at it and say, ‘Man, a nuclear bomb went off and nothing was released, so that must mean it’s safe,'” says engineer Sally Hayati about the Philadelphia explosion. “No, that just means the fortuitous outcome of this just happened to be such that it wasn’t released. You could have had tens of thousands of people die.”

Lucky You

The Headline

ICJ ruling leaves fate of Indian spy unclear

The Grind

In a highly-anticipated ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday ordered Pakistan to grant consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav – a former officer in the Indian Navy who was arrested in 2016 in Pakistan and sentenced to death over charges of espionage, sabotage, and terrorism.

Indian officials insist Jadhav is an innocent civilian who received a death sentence without a fair trial. Pakistani officials claim he entered the country using a fake name and sought to disrupt the China-Pakistan trade corridor.

According to the ICJ, Pakistan’s decision to deny him consular access is a breach of the Vienna Convention.

The rules of the Vienna Convention were applicable “regardless of the allegations that Mr. Jadhav was engaged in espionage activities,” announced ICJ Leader Abdulqawi Yusuf.

The ruling suspends plans for Jadhav’s execution and orders Pakistan to review its verdict.

The Details

The ruling was celebrated as a win by both sides.

“We welcome today’s verdict,” tweeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Truth and Justice have prevailed. Congratulations to the ICJ for a verdict based on extensive study of facts. I am sure Kulbhushan Jadhav will get justice.”

Pakistani officials interpreted the ruling as confirmation that Jadhav would remain in Pakistan.

“Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav is responsible for acts of sabotage, espionage, and multiple terrorist incidents in which scores of innocent Pakistani citizens were killed resulting into umpteen women being widowed and numerous children becoming orphans,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. “Jadhav shall remain in Pakistan. He shall be treated in accordance with the laws of Pakistan.”

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