DEP Needs to Hold Those Responsible Accountable
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ -- An asphalt tank exploded and burst into flames early this morning in the 200 block of Water Street in Gloucester City. The asphalt tank, owned and operated by Blueknight Energy Partners, caught fire and exploded around 12:49am. The tank is used for asphalt emulsion, and was in use when the incident occurred.
“The explosion of the asphalt tank is a terrifying example of what can happen to dangerous and polluting facilities in our communities. Even after it exploded, the asphalt tank was on fire for at least 3 hours, putting out thick, dark, toxic smoke into the community. It was lucky that nobody was hurt and that the fire didn’t spread, but the people of Gloucester City have been breathing in particulate matter, toxic chemicals, and organic compounds like benzene. DEP needs to make sure they check people in the area for exposure to the fumes from the fire, and make sure local homes are ventilated properly,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “DEP needs to have a full investigation and hold those responsible accountable for what happened.”
Residents woke up to a loud bang, and those living on both sides of Jersey Street to 4th Street were evacuated and told to shelter at the Gloucester Heights Community Center. HAZMAT workers, the Camden County Foam Task Force, and several fire departments were at the scene, as well as Red Cross of New Jersey.
“This explosion released a plume of very dirty and toxic smoke into the air. This can impact people’s lungs, irritate eyes and skin, and lead to headaches and dizziness. It is especially concerning for children and people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. The state needs to make sure that residents are checked by doctors, because long-term exposure to asphalt fumes can lead to cancer and lung disease,” said Tittel. “DEP allowed for a grace period during the pandemic, which means that they haven’t been inspecting facilities or enforcing violations. Under these circumstances, it is hard to know who’s fault this is. There needs to be a thorough investigation by the state to understand what happened.”
According to the New Jersey Department of Health’s Asphalt Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, oxidized asphalt should be handled as a carcinogen. The fumes can irritate the eyes on contact, and contact can cause severe skin irritation and burns. Inhaling oxidized asphalt fumes can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs, and exposure can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
“This accident should never have happened. New Jersey needs to investigate what happened and make sure that it doesn’t happen again and doesn’t happen in other places. This incident put public safety at risk, and we need to make sure that the state comes in to protect the people of Gloucester City. They also need to make sure that they check people in the area for exposure to asphalt fumes, because this can lead to respiratory health problems as well as cancer. Asphalt is made from liquid bitumen, which is one of the most hazardous substances known to man. New Jersey needs to hold Blueknight Energy Partners accountable for endangering the environment and public safety,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Inspections and enforcement are critical because it acts as a deterrent. The state needs to act now to make sure that nothing like this happens again.”