Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site Billboard

Viewable from 1-76 from June 2-28, 2021


Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site Billboard can 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.

This project 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 unredeveloped 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, the billboard incorporates four pieces of research data into a visual essay, pointing on I-76 towards alternative futures in a site-specific, rented, transient format.

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


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


Trees Used for Phytoremediation of Contaminated Soil


Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides W.Bartram ex Marshall)

Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoids X Populus nigra)

White Willow (Salix alba L.)

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

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex Contaminants of Concern (2011)




Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)






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 and Miranda Mote (subject matter experts), and Mia D’Avanza and Angela Faranda (research and project administration). Thanks to Mr. Charles Reeves and Maggie McNulty for permission to republish an excerpt from their interview.