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Guest column/Attempting to greenwash the cracker plant

One again, JobsOhio, an economic development organization in Ohio, has awarded a huge sum of money, $20 million, to the Thailand chemical company PTT Global Chemical America and its South Korean partner, Daelim Industrial Co. The $20 million grant is for additional site preparation for a potential ethane cracker plant to be built at Dilles Bottom in Belmont County. This brings the total amount of money given by JobsOhio to this project to a whopping $70 million.

This announcement came shortly after a Columbus-based spokesperson for the company, Dan Williamson, attempted to assuage concerns of citizens by basically “greenwashing” the dangers associated with petrochemicals and the increase in single-use plastics production. He admitted in his interview that the company has been quiet thus far but “concerned residents staging protests against the project and meeting with state officials” made the company decide to get involved in the conversation on environmental issues.

He said the company would “assess reducing greenhouse gas emissions and use renewable materials instead of fossil fuels.” However, all plastics, since the 1950s have been made from coal, oil or gas, and all petrochemical processes produce enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. Shell’s Monaca ethane cracker is allowed to emit 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Given these facts, Williamson’s proclamation seems disingenuous at best.

He touted the “initiation of an upcycling plastic waste projects to transform plastic waste into useful items such as clothing and bags” with programs such as, “Trash to Treasure” or “Wear your Own Waste.” This project creates a T-shirt from 14 beverage bottles. These initiatives will hardly make a dent in the current plastic crisis facing our planet, especially the 100 billion beverage bottles sold in the United States each year.

Recycling is now industry’s go-to answer for addressing the more than 300 million tons of plastic wastes created each year.

Plastic Oceans International said, “more than 500 billion plastic bags are produced, that’s about 1 million bags every minute.” Much of these wastes materials eventually end up in our oceans.

A report in Jefferies Financial Inc. said “even if the world were able to reuse 50 percent of its plastic wastes in the next 10 years, it still will not be enough.” The report also stated, “the impact of plastics leaking into the environment, polluting oceans and entering the food chain, could potentially be almost as big a concern for civil society as climate change.”

The United States currently only recycles 9 percent of its plastic wastes. Additionally, “most of the 8 billion tons of plastic ever produced continue to exist, either in landfills or in the environment,” according to Jefferies.

Rolan Geyer, a researcher with the Ocean Conservancy, said of recycling, “everyone wants to fix the recycling system, but what we really need to do is just all agree that we are making too much plastic.” Recycled materials also can contain hazardous substances that result in toxic exposures to the workers recycling these materials as well as consumers who buy the new products produced from them. This is especially true of electronic plastic wastes (e-waste) according to the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network report titled, “Toxic Loophole: Recycling Hazardous Wastes into New Products.”

In the words of Geyer, “The only material that doesn’t need disposal is the one we never made.”

Of all the plastic trash released into the environment, the top 10 most frequently found items are single-use plastic such as plastic cups, containers and utensils. Packaging makes up 42 percent of all plastic manufactured. While Williamson says there are still good uses for plastic, such as “medical supplies and automobile components” these uses also are being targeted for reduction or replacement with much greener materials.

The medical industry is recognizing the need to cut back on single-use plastics. A recent article in National Geographic said, “for all the ways plastic has revolutionized the medical industry, it’s now being scrutinized for what happens after it’s done its job.” Medical care providers are concerned with microplastics, fossil fuel use and the dioxin created when plastic like polyvinyl chloride is incinerated. Other options are being suggested including sterilization and reusing uncontaminated materials.

Automobiles and auto components also can be made from other materials. Hemp-based plastic is quickly becoming a popular choice, being used in the Lotus Eco Elise, BMW i3 electric car and the electric Kestrel. In 1941, Henry Ford built the first “cellulose-plastic prototype using cellulose fibers derived from hemp, pine fiber, sisal and wheat straw.

“The plastic was said to be lighter than steel and 10 times as strong.”

Ford even created an ethanol he manufactured from hemp wastes to fuel the vehicle. This fuel is 86 percent greener than gasoline. “Ford’s bio-plastic car had a footprint that was 14 percent of gasoline cars.”

Williamson said no “forever chemicals” such PFAS, a compound used to make DuPont’s Teflon and one responsible for health effects worldwide, would be involved in “construction or operation” of the cracker plant. However, there are so many other hazardous chemicals used in plastics production, such as lead, cadmium, BPAs, acrylonitrile, and phthalates, that this assurance is hardly going to set anyone’s mind at ease.

When concerns about the pollution of the Ohio River were expressed, Williamson noted “the plant will use technology and infrastructure designed to protect and restore the river, local streams and wetlands.” How can any of this be true, as the plant will release hundreds of tons of toxic materials into our air and water. He also failed to mention that cracker plants rely on fracked ethane gas. Fracking requires more than 1 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals to frack each well and hundreds of new wells will be required to feed these crackers.

The waste products from fracking, dubbed produced water, in some cases contain radioactive isotopes of Radium, according to environmental journalist Justin Nobel’s recent report, “America’s Radioactive Secret,” in the Rolling Stone magazine.

The watersheds that feed the Ohio River are located in heavily fracked counties in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio and are subject to contamination.

Although this industry would like us to believe it will cause no harm, each day new scientific research proves this to be untrue.

Barry Commoner said in his 1971 best-seller, “The Closing Circle,” “we have created for ourselves a new and dangerous world.”

(Pokladnik, a resident of Uhrichsville, is an environmental scientist.)

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