About Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site

Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site Billboard was viewable from June 2-28, 2021. It could be seen from Wharton Street, just north of the former Sunoco/PES Refinery site's AOI-8, or driving westbound on I-76 towards the Grays Ferry neighborhood.

Area of Interest: Public Posters is a forthcoming, large-format 20-poster visual essay expanding the project in public space.


Area of Interest situates research as an open set of questions related to the future of the former Sunoco/Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery, its ongoing remediation by Sunoco subsidiary Evergreen Resources Group, LLC., and Hilco Redevelopment Partners' plans for the site. At 1,300 acres, the largest un-redeveloped brownfield in Philadelphia is highly desirable even with the long remediation timeline and limits on future use required by partial remediation. It was the East Coast’s largest oil refinery.

As community activists demand transparency and raise environmental justice concerns about remaining chemical contamination—such as EPA-actionable levels of cancer-causing VOC benzene—the toxic legacy, cleanup, and future plans continue to impact residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the site, whose populations are predominantly Black and low income, and whose lives have already been shaped by proximity to the refinery and petrocapitalism’s slow violence.

In response, Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site Billboard incorporated four pieces of research data into a visual essay, pointing on I-76 towards alternative futures in a site-specific, rented, transient format. In late 2021, Area of Interest: Public Posters will continue the project in public.

Press Release


Figure 1: Former Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery (Replica Map)

Replica map of the contaminated refinery site broken down into Areas of Interest (AOIs) for cleanup by Sunoco/Evergreen and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP). Sunoco is responsible for legacy contamination and Hilco for monitoring and current emissions.

Source: Philadelphia Refinery Operations, a series of Evergreen Resources Group, LLP, from the Philadelphia Refinery Legacy Remediation website.

Figure 2: Quote from Mr. Charles Reeves (Excerpt)

Mr. Charles Reeves' powerful wish for the former refinery site to become a cemetery, quoted from his interview with Maggie McNulty in Schuylkill River & Urban Waters Research Corps Archive's Grays Ferry Oral Histories Project. This project of Penn Program in Environmental Humanities documents the lives of long-term residents in this South Philadelphia neighborhood after the refinery explosion.

Biography: Mr. Charles Reeves, Jr. has been a resident of Grays Ferry for sixty years. He is the Founding President of the Tasker-Morris Neighbors Association.

Figure 3: Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides W. Bartram ex Marshall)

Pressed herbarium specimen of the Eastern Cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides W.Bartram ex Marshall), from the Atlas of Florida Plants.

The Eastern Cottonwood grows in Philadelphia and can be used to phytoremediate petroleum and benzene contamination. It’s named for botanist and naturalist William Bartram, author of Bartram’s Travels and son of John Bartram, the "father of American botany.” Significantly, Bartram’s Garden, a National Historic Landmark named for the family, is just across the Schuylkill River from AOI-8 and adjacent to the housing complex Bartram Village.

Source: Atlas of Florida Plants

Figure 4: View from the Passayunk Bridge of the former Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery, also known as the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) Refining and Marketing LLC Complex, May 4, 2021

This image is of extant refinery infrastructure as can seen beyond the fenceline during the ongoing post-explosion dismantling of the refinery.

Photography: Alex Imbot/Bethany Wiggin 2021


This upcoming work will extend Area of Interest as a large-format 20-poster visual essay, situating research materials about the PES site in public space. The project's research material includes site photography, quotes from community activists, lists of acronyms and other technical language about the site, and herbarium and policy ephemera. Some posters employ figures and figure captions, referencing the framework of image numbering and text used when photographs, maps, charts, and other data are presented as evidence in academic publications and reports.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex Areas of Interest


AOI 1 - Point Breeze No. 1 Tank Farm

AOI 2 - Point Breeze Processing Area

AOI 3 - Point Breeze Impoundment Area

AOI 4 - No. 4 Tank Farm

AOI 5 - Girard Point South Tank Field

AOI 6 - Girard Point Chemicals Area

AOI 7 - Girard Point Fuels Area

AOI 8 - North Yard

AOI 9 - Schuylkill River Tank Farm

AOI 10 - West yard

AOI 11 - Deep Aquifer Beneath the Complex

Source: phillyrefinerycleanup.info

Trees Used for Phytoremediation of Contaminated Soil


Eastern Cottonwood (Populus Deltoides W. Bartram Ex Marshall)

Hybrid Poplar (Populus Deltoides X Populus Nigra)

White Willow (Salix Alba L.)

Weeping Willow (Salix Babylonica L.)

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex Contaminants of Concern (2011)




Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)





PES Refining and Marketing LLC Complex

Remedial Investigation Reports Review, June 2020

Acronym List/Glossary


AOI - Area of Interest

CAMU - Corrective Action Management Unit

COC - Contaminant of Concern

EPA - United States Environmental Protection Agency

IASHS - Indoor Air Statewide Health Standard

LNAPL - Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid

MTBE - Methyl Tert Butyl Ether

NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

NIR - Notice of Intent to Remediate

OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Administration

PADEP - Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality

PES - Philadelphia Energy Solutions

RIR - Remedial Investigation Report

SWMU - Solid Waste Management Unit

VOC - Volatile Organic Compound

SVOC - Semi-Volatile Organic Compound

Area of Interest Posters

List of Figures


Figure 1. Former Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery (Replica Map)

Figure 2. Quote from Mr. Charles Reeves (See billboard)

Figure 3.1-3.3. TBD

Figure 4.1 View From Passyunk Bridge

Figure 4.2 Fenceline view of the former Sunoco/Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery complex

Figure 4.3 Tanks and infrastructure at the decommissioned PES refinery complex

Figure 5 PES fenceline surface soil sample taken near the Penrose PECO Substation

Figure 6.1 Report Cover, Environmental Justice and Refinery Pollution, 2021

Figure 6.2 Report Cover, A Close Call and an Uncertain Future, 2019


Amy Balkin with support from Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, Bethany Wiggin and Alex Imbot (site research and photography), Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Tammy Reeves (Resident Action Committee 2) and Miranda Mote (subject matter experts), and Mia D’Avanza and Angela Faranda (research, production and project administration). Thanks to Mr. Charles Reeves and Maggie McNulty for permission to republish an excerpt from their interview. Billboard image credit: Matt Gant