Air quality in question following Kensington junkyard fire

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Inspectors were back on the scene of a 4-alarm junkyard fire Thursday, checking to see if the owner resolved the 18 violations he was cited for prior to the blaze.

The city of Philadelphia has hired a private lab to test smoke samples from a blazing inferno that burned at a Kensington junkyard Tuesday night.

The Clean Air Council, a non-profit environmental group, actually had installed air quality sensors in and around the area of the fire.

Using the same air quality index that the EPA uses, they said the air quality was extremely hazardous.

"This was off the charts; this is a higher reading then we've ever seen at one of these sites," said Karl Koerner of the Clean Air Council.

The fire broke out around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in a scrap yard in the 2200 block of East Somerset.

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Chopper 6 over a junkyard fire in Kensington, on July 10, 2018

Some neighbors said they had to leave their homes due to the air quality.

"It was crazy, it was so crazy, I hurried up and got my grandkids out of here," said neighbor Rick McNeil.

Resident Brian Holzworth spoke to Action News about the effects of the fire had on him.

"It was like inhaling burnt rubber. I blow my nose and black stuff is coming out constantly, got a headache all day," Holzworth said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but environmentalists note the scrap yard owner was already in a heap of trouble with the city, facing 73 open violations.

"It's a laundry list of every possible fire code violation that you could get," said Russell Zerbo of the Clean Air Council

Officials from Licenses and Inspections took the owner, David Feinberg, to court, saying, in part, "The city was exceedingly concerned with the excessive storage, which, if there was a fire, could lead to a more intense and substantial conflagration."
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Air quality in question following Kensington junkyard fire. Dann Cuellar reports during Action News at 11 p.m. on July 11, 2018.

The city was hoping the court would impose strict fines and penalties against the owner, but that did not happen.

On Wednesday, Action News spoke with Feinberg. He refused to speak on camera but claimed the fire had nothing to do with violations.

Feinberg said heroin addicts from a tent city a block away managed to jump the scrap yard fence in an attempt to steal stuff and somehow set off the blaze.
But Russel Zerbo of the Clean Air Council said this was a disaster waiting to happen and the courts need to get tougher with scrap yard owners.

"I mean scrap yards just act with impunity so often," said Zerbo.

The city health department expects to get air sample results in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, the scrap yard owner already has another court hearing set for next month.

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