Pittsburgh Meets Nurdles Following Train Derailment

It was only a matter of time before plastic nurdles began polluting Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers, but we didn’t think it would happen prior to the grand opening of Shell’s Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex in Monaca, Beaver County, PA, where they will make trillions of nurdles from fracked gas every year.

But sure enough, in addition to 3,000 gallons of petroleum distillates spilling into the Allegheny River, just upriver from Pittsburgh, there were millions of nurdles spilled from the derailment on Thursday afternoon, May 26, 2022.

Photos of spill: Courtesy of Three Rivers Waterkeeper

Fortunately, there were no casualties from the train wreck and/or a bunch of those railroad tank cars didn’t go up in flames. Of course it’s the #1075 placarded tank cars, hauling gas liquids like propane, that are an even bigger concern due to the chance of a BLEVE.

Stories about nurdle spills:
  • The massive, unregulated source of plastic pollution you’ve probably never heard of
    A nurdle is a bead of pure plastic. It is the basic building block of almost all plastic products, like some sort of synthetic ore; their creators call them “pre-production plastic pellets” or “resins.” Every year, trillions of nurdles are produced from natural gas or oil, shipped to factories around the world, and then melted and poured into molds that churn out water bottles and sewage pipes and steering wheels and the millions of other plastic products we use every day.
  • Nurdles: The Pesky Unregulated Microplastic That’s Killing Marine Life
    Nurdles are greatly affecting marine life as many animals can mistake them for food like seabirds, fish, and crustaceans. Because of their small size and color, they can often look like fish eggs which attract marine life. When animals eat these nurdles, they can get trapped in their stomachs and cause ulcers or inhibit them from eating food. The toxic chemicals that they contain are extremely harmful to animals and the chemicals can enter their bodies and become fatal.
  • ‘Nurdles are everywhere’: how plastic pellets ravaged a Sri Lankan paradise
    Millions or even billions of nurdles have been washing up along the island’s coastline for hundreds of miles, from Mannar in the north to Kirinda in the south. A UN report called the incident in May 2021 the “single largest plastic spill” in history, with about 1,680 tonnes of nurdles released into the ocean. Most of them were partly burnt and contaminated with chemicals and debris from the ship spill, posing even more of a threat to marine life – and the local community.
  • Ever hear of a nurdle? The western Pa. ethane cracker could bring this new form of pollution to the Ohio River
    Plastic production is ramping up nationally. Fueled by the boom of shale gas production, 334 projects related to plastics have been announced since 2010, according to the American Chemistry Council. One of those projects is the ethane cracker Shell is building along the Ohio River in Beaver County, north of Pittsburgh. It will take ethane from the region’s natural gas to produce nearly 1.6 million metric tons of plastic pellets a year. That equals an estimated trillions of nurdles annually.

One Comment on “Pittsburgh Meets Nurdles Following Train Derailment

  1. Bob,
    The effect of microplastics in the Great Lakes region has been studied for some time now; I studied this at university with my advisor who was leading this effort (Dr. Sherri Mason – Fredonia, NY).

    The hormone emitting, endocrine disrupting effects of microplastics on fish populations; leading to intersex fish is extremely concerning when we evaluate biomagnification and the impact on our own species.


Leave a Reply