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Grays Ferry Oral Histories

The collection of Grays Ferry Oral Histories documents the lives of long-term residents in this South Philadelphia neighborhood after the explosion of the former nearby Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery on June 21, 2019. The oral history project is a collaboration between refinery fence line neighbors and the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, where university and neighborhood partners co-imagined project goals.

This oral history collection draws heavily on the lived experiences of the impacted residents, how they, their families, and their community have been effected by living in close proximity to the refinery, and their hopes for a healthier future. As part of this collaboration, students and residents jointly designed a walking tour, illustrating life in this fence line community led by neighbors, which serves as the basis for the digital exhibit and tour. Highlighting neighbors’ experiences through these oral histories regarding the uncertainty of life with a refinery, data poverty is addressed here.

The PES refinery, the largest oil-processing facility on the East Coast of the United States, had been operating for nearly 150 years. The PES refinery was also the single largest source of air pollution in the City of Philadelphia. The refinery had long contaminated the land, air, water, and bodies of those living in fence line communities adjacent to the PES complex. The impact will continue to be felt long after PES ceased operations and is compounded by rising sea level and other local climate effects.

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