I Wanna Know

PW exposes the tricks, scams and truth about the powers that be.

By Sammy Mack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 24, 2004

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Q: There's a big smokestack at one of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital buildings. With some regularity (often in the dark of night), the hospital releases some really nasty black smoke into the otherwise pristine Philly atmosphere. What are they burning there?

A: "Jefferson does not have any smokestacks, nor does it have any incinerators," says hospital spokesperson Jeffrey Baxt. What it does have are cooling towers. When temperatures climb above 40 degrees, the cooling towers release hot air from the facility. Baxt says the release of this dissipated heated air has no real impact on the environment, and that Jefferson's rare air may, in fact, be some of the cleanest in the city. Jeff is the only Philadelphia business ever to win a National Air Filtration Association Clean Air Award. NAFA recognized the hospital last year for its efforts to improve air filtration in its facilities. Specifically, the hospital upgraded hundreds of existing air filters with more efficient odor- reducing filters. If Philly smells funny, it's not Jefferson's fault. The nasty black smoke you saw might actually belong to the Trigen facility near the hospital at Ninth and Sansom streets. Trigen has a boiler plant at that location, which makes steam. Lots of steam. Four boilers supply part of a network that pipes 30 miles of steam across the city. The steam is used for everything from restaurant and dry-cleaning needs to sterilizing hospital equipment. The Trigen plant houses four oil-fired boilers. Theoretically, if the mix of fuel and air is right, there will be no smoke. "Smoking occurs when you have more fuel than air," says Floyd Rupple, director of operations and management for Trigen-Philadelphia Energy Corp. Each of the boilers has a monitoring system that regulates the fuel-to-air ratios during the burn. "If you ever see smoke, it's due to a failure of those systems," says Rupple. Video cameras monitor the stacks, so when they start smoking, the fuel ratios can be manually adjusted. And if the boilers were ever more productive than necessary, the stacks could always let off a little steam.

What do you wanna know? Send queries and complaints to Sammy Mack at smack@philadelphiaweekly.com

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