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Some Grays Ferry residents had a tough weekend for sleep.
At the root of it? A shrill, ceaseless shriek, apparently due to a steam leak at the Vicinity Energy plant along the Schuylkill.
Residents began hearing the noise on Friday, according to multiple local news stations. After TV news reports highlighted the problem on Monday, Vicinity said it would begin repairs at midnight.
By Tuesday morning, the fix was underway. The noise was reported gone by late afternoon, and repairs were expected to be finished by evening, Vicinity Director of Communications Colleen Doherty told Billy Penn.
That wasn’t soon enough to avoid getting a slap on the wrist for the disturbance. City officials issued a violation notice for noise pollution on both Sunday and Monday, according to Health Department spokesperson James Garrow.
“There is no danger to the public as the release is just steam,” said Garrow.
One of the plant’s neighbors described the sound to 6ABC as “a very irritating, high pitched, constant noise,” and another told the news station she couldn’t even hear her TV.
Vicinity apologized on social media, and acknowledged resident concerns. “We apologize for any inconvenience or disturbance to our neighbors,” the company posted on Twitter.
There’s typically a bit of white noise coming from the plant, one resident told KYW, but the louder noise this weekend had folks in the neighborhood wondering if there was something wrong.
The facility at 2600 Christian St. is a cogeneration plant that uses natural gas to create steam and heat.. It provides energy to over 300 buildings in Center City and University City by distributing steam, hot water, and chilled water produced at the plant through an underground network.
It does this mostly using natural gas; it’s the largest customer of Philadelphia Gas Works, according to The Inquirer, and accounts for 3% of the city’s carbon footprint.
The loud noise was created by “a steam leak on a small auxiliary line inside its Grays Ferry facility,” according to a Vicinity Energy statement.
Though this case didn’t cause concern, problems at thermal energy plants have posed safety risks before. Steam burns from a leak at a Boston Vicinity plant in October landed two employees in the hospital, and one of the Philadelphia plant’s main boilers exploded in 2016 when the plant was owned by Veolia, causing one minor injury due to flying glass.
This type of incident is uncommon and the company is looking into what caused leak, said Doherty, the communications director. “The failed section of line will be sent out for analysis to determine the root cause.”