EPA Benzene Report


Philadelphia’s Air Management Services, under the health department, operates 10 monitors around the city measuring ambient levels of air pollutants including benzene. The monitor closest to the plant, at 24th and Ritner Streets, never detected benzene amounts that would raise a public health alarm in the years prior to the fire, said James Garrow, a health department spokesman.


By Andrew Maykuth

NBC News

James Garrow, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, said in a statement that “it is a well-known fact that refineries emit benzene during operation.” He said that a city-run air monitor a half mile from where the refinery’s highest benzene emissions were recorded didn’t record excessive benzene emissions after the disaster and that any “responsible bidder” would seek out such information.


By Corbin Hiar, E&E News and Lisa Riordan Seville


Garrow said the city did not disclose the information to the public because testing at a city air-monitoring station at 24th and Ritner streets did not show such high levels.

“Within the community, we never found levels of benzene high enough to indicate a threat to human health,” he said.


By Catalina Jaramillo


James Garrow, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Public Health, told WHYY that the EPA informed the city that PES was exceeding the limit last May. According to the EPA’s rule, the action level is not an enforceable limit. But it gives refineries surpassing the limit 45 days to submit a report analysing the possible causes and establishing ways to fix them.


By Catalina Jaramillo

Removal of Tobacco Licenses


PHILADELPHIA–The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced that 149 stores that have been selling tobacco products are not eligible to renew their tobacco sales permits in 2020, due to repeated violations of City regulations against selling tobacco products to minors. This number represents 6% of tobacco sales permits in Philadelphia. Many of the stores that are losing their permits are concentrated in poor, minority neighborhoods in North, West, and Southwest Philadelphia. (See attached map and table.)



“The number one killer in Philadelphia continues to be tobacco,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “Many people suffering from tobacco addiction got hooked when a store clerk flouted the law and sold a child a pack of cigarettes, cigarillos, or an e-cigarette. Stores that repeatedly sell tobacco products to kids are a clear danger to our neighborhoods. Today’s announcement shows that we’re taking this danger seriously and protecting Philadelphia’s kids.”


By Max Bennett


“This is a sign that the city is serious about protecting our kids from these killer, addictive products,” Farley said. “Stores that have been selling cigarettes to children over the years are going to be discovered in the future, and they’re going to lose their tobacco sales privileges if they continue to do this.”


By Rita Giordano

Philly Tribune

The health department randomly checks compliance with the regulations by sending teenagers into stores to attempt to buy tobacco products. Businesses sell minors tobacco products during these test visits 25% to 30% of the time, Farley said. A violation results in a city fine.


By Michael D’Onofrio


Health Commissioner Tom Farley said the stores were caught selling cigarettes to teenagers under 18 three or more times in the last two years, so their applications to continue selling cigarettes this year were denied.

Philadelphia has more tobacco outlets than other large cities — 2,600 still have permits. Farley said one of the goals of the new permits rules is to reduce the concentration “in low-income, minority neighborhoods.”


By Pat Loeb


“We hope that this action today will send a message to the other stores in the city that we’re serious. If they continue to sell to kids, they’re going to lose their tobacco sales privileges,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.

Farley says the city has taken action against 149 stores caught selling tobacco to kids three or more times in the past two years.


By Stephanie Stahl


By the time licenses were up for renewal in January 2019, four stores had reached the threshold. This year, 149 reached it.

To catch violators, the city sends young mystery shoppers to retailers to try to buy cigarettes. The city partners with the nonprofit Health Promotion Council to recruit and pay teen shoppers between 15 and 17, all of whom attempt to buy cigarettes. The teens are accompanied by adult chaperones.


By Nina Feldman


Over 149 stores in Philly that have accrued repeated violations of city laws by selling tobacco products to minors have been forbidden from renewing their tobacco sales permits in 2020. This follows a crackdown on legislation launched in 2017 that if a store sold to minors three or more times within the past two years, they would not be able to renew their sales permits.

By Becca Glasser-Baker


This is the first big action taken stemming from a 2017 law saying that any Philadelphia business selling tobacco to teens three or more times in two years would lose their license.

In 2019, four stores were cited. This time around? 149.

The health department says all stores were caught during compliance checks, where teens ask to buy tobacco.


By Bob Brooks

The Philly Voice

In their statement, the city health officials also mentioned that many of the stores losing permits are concentrated in “poor, minority neighborhoods, in North, West, and Southwest Philadelphia,” and included the following map demonstrating where busts occurred.


By Allie Miller

Is Philadelphia’s Air Cleaner?

Environmental advocates say the air sensors pick up only some refinery emissions, and much depends upon the direction that the wind is blowing. The city’s Public Health Department is reluctant to draw conclusions based on short-term data, and says it keeps watch on emissions over the entire region.

“It’s difficult to say if it’s better or not because that term is so variable, and right now we’re tracking that type of thing over an entire year,” said James Garrow, spokesperson for the city’s Air Management Services, which regulates air emissions.


By Andrew Maykuth

Hepatitis Data Exposure

The reporter found the records on a public data tool built by the health department in October, shortly after the hepatitis records were posted. Minutes after being notified by The Inquirer of the exposed records, the department deleted them. As such, “there was no risk to confidentiality,” said Jim Garrow, health department spokesperson.


By Nat Lash

2019 Health of the City report


PHILADELPHIA–The Health Department’s latest Health of the City report shows declines in smoking and sweetened beverage consumption, both of which are behaviors that can lead to heart disease, Philadelphia’s leading cause of death. However, chronic diseases, the opioid epidemic, and a rising rate of gun violence continue to negatively impact the overall health of the city.



The city’s Department of Public Health produces the annual report to help officials, health-care providers, and residents better understand factors influencing health. Data come from a variety of sources, including Pennsylvania’s telephone-based population survey of behavioral risk factors.


By Marie McCullough

Philly Tribune

The difference in health between African Americans and other races is “because of poverty, lower levels of employment, and historical discrimination and lack of opportunity,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Health.

“Closing the racial gap in health will require improving African-Americans’ educations, employment, and income opportunities as well as creating environments that promote healthy behaviors — such as healthy diet, physical activity, and avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.”


By John Mitchell

Mayor Signs Tobacco Restrictions Bills


PHILADELPHIA–Mayor Kenney, flanked by teenaged activists and members of City Council, signed two new laws and an Executive Order yesterday intended to help protect Philadelphia children from the dangers of addictive cigarillos and e-cigarettes. Following a three-month education period and a three-month warning period, flavored and high-nicotine e-cigarettes will only be allowed to be sold in adults-only stores. After a sixty-day education period, no candy or fruit flavored cigarillos will be allowed to be sold in Philadelphia. And beginning today, all City properties, including parks and recreation centers, are smoke- and vape-free.



“I have been deeply troubled by the unfolding of the youth vaping epidemic and the widespread sale of fruit and candy flavored cigarillos,” Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. “These products threaten to undermine years of hard-fought progress to reduce adult and youth smoking. These laws are a necessary step in protecting our children.”


By Max Bennett


Mayor Jim Kenney and other Philadelphia officials gathered at City Hall on Wednesday to sign a bill that will crack down on vaping. The new bill will restrict the sale of e-cigarettes in stores where children shop.


By Staff


The illnesses have primarily been among young adults who are otherwise healthy, drawing attention to the sharp rise in youth e-cigarette use.

“We are seeing an epidemic of youth vaping in the United States,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.


By Sarah Gantz

KYW 1060

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Wednesday signed two bills designed to protect teenagers from the lure of nicotine, and a group of young people who lobbied for the measures was there to watch.

Health Commissioner Tom Farley invited students from the Advocacy Institute to get a ringside seat for the bill signing. After all, they’d worked on getting the measures passed in City Council.


By Pat Loeb

Homeless Death Statistics


Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, “The opioid crisis is both exacerbating the homelessness problem in Philadelphia and increasing the number of homeless people who die of drug overdoses. The health department is working with many other City agencies to reduce the number of people who become addicted and help those who are addicted – homeless or not – begin drug treatment.”



And most deaths in the city’s homeless population were due to overdoses, Hersh said. That’s a sea change from just a few years ago. Between 2009 and 2015, about 37% of deaths among the homeless population were from overdoses. Between 2016 and 2018, overdoses accounted for 59% of such deaths.

By Aubrey Whelan

The Philadelphia Health Department has compiled some grim statistics about homeless deaths in the city over the last decade.

From 2009 though 2018, the number of deaths among Philadelphia’s homeless population has tripled, largely because of an increase in the number of overdose deaths.


By Pat Loeb

Getting Ready for Marijuana

At Wednesday night’s gathering, Philadelphia public health policy adviser Jeffrey Hom pointed to ad campaigns in states where marijuana is legal that echo strategies used decades ago by Big Tobacco, to make the substance look cool to young people. He also cautioned about the packaging of edible marijuana products that looks like candy bars.


By Nina Feldman

Lead Testing in Charter Schools

“In consultation with the Health Department and the School District, L&I will put such a process in place,” she said.

Yet while the underlying legislation makes lead testing a prerequisite for school building occupancy, Guss could not say what penalty schools would face for skipping tests.


By Ryan Briggs and Avi Wolfman-Arent