Pennsylvania becomes the newest sacrifice zone for America’s plastic addiction

That subtitle is part of a September 15, 2022 Environmental Health News story, The Titans of Plastic, in partnership with Sierra Magazine, where reporter Kristina Marusic writes about Shell’s new Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex in Monaca, PA, as it nears production of plastic ‘nurdles.’

“Shell ranks in the top 10 among the 90 companies that are responsible for two-thirds of historic greenhouse gas emissions. Its Potter Township cracker plant is expected to emit up to 2.25 million tons of climate-warming gases annually, equivalent to approximately 430,000 extra cars on the road. It will also emit 159 tons of particulate matter pollution, 522 tons of volatile organic compounds, and more than 40 tons of other hazardous air pollutants. Exposure to these emissions is linked to brain, liver, and kidney issues; cardiovascular and respiratory disease; miscarriages and birth defects; and childhood leukemia and cancer. Some residents fear that the plant could turn the region into a sacrifice zone: a new “Cancer Alley” in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.”


“The plant wasn’t even opened up yet, and they were already getting violations for not being able to contain these chemicals inside the fence line. It was scary.”

Bob Schmetzer, cofounder of BCMAC, THe group that launched Eyes on Shell
Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex

“Even this one facility is not just one facility. The ethane cracker itself is well down the production chain. It starts with fracking wells, then there are gathering lines, pipelines, and compressor stations, among other facilities. And after the cracker plant, there are downstream manufacturing processes to turn these plastic pellets into products. Every single part of that chain poses risks.”

Matt Mehalik, Executive Director of the Breathe Project

“I’m worried about what this means for our air, which is already very polluted, and for our drinking water.”

Terrie Baumgardner of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community
Unconventional shale gas well site

“For leukemia and lymphoma, the current understanding is that it could show up as soon as three to five years after exposure, and within less than 10 years for sure. Solid tumors like lung cancer could take 10 or 20 years. And other cancer types could take more than 30 years to show up. In general, the longer you trace these populations, the more cancers you’ll find.”

Dr. Cheng-Kuan Lin, a physician and former researcher at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health
More from THE TITANS OF PLASTIC by Kristina Marusic:

A study of leukemia found that people who live near petrochemical complexes are 36 percent more likely to develop cancer than those who don’t. The risk is higher for certain types of leukemia. People living near petrochemical facilities are about 85 percent more likely to develop chronic lymphocytic leukemia compared with people not living near these facilities. The studies also found that those who live near petrochemical complexes are almost 20 percent more likely to develop lung cancer.

In 2019, Environmental Health News tested the air, water, and urine of Pennsylvania families who lived near fracking wells for contaminants. The investigation found biomarkers for harmful chemicals in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 90 times higher than the national average. In 2014, Clean Air Council created a detailed report on the expected impacts of the ethane cracker, including increased risk of cancer and respiratory and heart disease, increased traffic, and light and noise pollution.

It’s difficult to quantify the public health costs of a facility like the ethane cracker, but modeling tools offer a rough idea. According to predictions from the EPA’s CO-Benefits Risk Assessment tool, the plant’s emissions of PM2.5—toxic airborne particulate much tinier than the width of a human hair—are estimated to cost Beaver County an additional $16 million a year in health-care costs. That’s not counting other pollutants like volatile organic compounds and hazardous chemicals. Neighboring Allegheny County can expect about $13 million in additional health-care costs. The national health-care burden is expected to increase by about $70 million a year from pollution that travels from Shell’s plant beyond the area. FULL STORY WITH MORE PHOTOS

“They say ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ but a lot of legislators stop there in their critical thinking about the benefits of this kind of tax package. We aren’t doing the math to figure out this is costing us millions of tax dollars per job. We’re foregoing billions of dollars of revenue over the life of this plant at a time when we can’t afford to make necessary investments in our infrastructure, our public schools, or our small businesses.”

State representative Sara Innamorato, who represents parts of Pittsburgh, PA

MORE: Photos of Fracking in the ‘Early Years’

VIDEO: Ethane Crackers & Associated Health Impacts

More leukemia in young children living near Pennsylvania fracking sites

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: What would Rachel Carson say?

Childhood Cancer Study near Fracking in S.W. Pennsylvania

STORY: Shell gaslights over public health concerns: “We don’t have an impact”

Frackin’ & Crackin’ Plastic This Summer

EXCLUSIVE: The Story Behind ‘Fracked Water Wells’ in Dimock PA

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