On June 21, 2019 the PES refinery in South Philly had an explosion and fire. This incident has received much media coverage. We covered it on a radio episode of Philly Talks Climate on June 28, 2019, see Pay up, PES! …and please clean up on your way out.
On August 6, 2019, at the first public meeting of our City’s Refinery Advisory Group, this is the picture I painted…
Hello, my name is Meenal Raval. I live in Mt Airy, about 10 miles north of here.
We’re thankful there were no casualties from the 6/21 incident at the refinery. We’re also thankful this refinery has closed. We need to ensure that it remains closed. And focus on the task at hand — to reclaim the land for other applications, ones that don’t involve fossil fuels, in line with our City’s climate action goals. Because we all have a Right to Breathe!
Remembering our City’s Zero Waste by 2035 goal, and knowing there’s no “away” to take the contaminated soil to, we need to clean the soil in place.
When we look at flood maps, for instance choices.climatecentral.com, most of the refinery land could be submerged given the rate and direction we’re headed with the climate crisis. We recommend cleaning it up as best as we can before this happens, to recreate the marshland and green space we’ve lost where the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers meet. Most people would not hesitate to support a complete Schuylkill River Trail.
How? In one word — myco-remediation, or remediating using the mycelium network of mushrooms. Myco-remediation works in two ways — pulling up elementals and breaking down compounds.
Elementals like lead are pulled up and into the mushroom fruit, which can be harvested, dehydrated and incinerated, with the resultant ash treated as hazardous waste.
Compounds (like petro-chemicals formed from hydro-carbons) actually feed the mycelium, which break the hydro-carbons down into innocuous elements like hydrogen, carbon and oxygen and help the mushroom fruit thrive! If no heavy metals are found in the soil, the mushrooms from a petro-chemical site can be harvested and added to the compost pile, for future soil enhancement.
Our understanding is that multiple crops and harvests can pull up the heavy metals, break down the hydro-carbons, and leave us with living, fertile soil. I was told that about 3 growing cycles, all of which could take place in just one year, would be enough to remediate the soil. I’ve also learned that myco-remediation is best done with mycelium from spent substrate from a mushroom farm! And.. that myco-remediation is cheaper than any other form of remediation.
Most people I’ve spoken with suggest some form of renewable energy at this site, such as geothermal fields and solar farms. After soil reclamation, I sense that a pollinator friendly solar farm would be very popular, allowing for local food production in this area also.
With our region being the mushroom capital of the US, this could be a great Philadelphia story — land reclamation, green space, clean energy and local food. These are the type of jobs people would clamor over.
Some easy reading references on myco-remediation
- Mushrooms Clean Up Toxic Mess, Including Plastic; Why Aren’t They Used More?, March 2019, Yes! Magazine
- Mushrooms Clean Up Our Toxic Mess in Spring 2019 of Yes! Magazine
- Infographic: How Mushrooms Clean Up Toxic Mess, April 2019, Yes! Magazine