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Pennsylvania Ag News Headlines
Residents Fear Pennsylvania, West Virginia Chemical Recycling Proposals Will Deepen Fossil Fuel Ties and Pollution Problems
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 04/02/2024

When Sandy Field first heard about the plan to build a new chemical recycling facility in her community in Point Township, Pennsylvania, she thought it sounded like a great idea.

“The plastic waste crisis is a real problem and I thought this sounded like a good solution,” she told Environmental Health News (EHN). “But then I went to the company’s open house and did some more research and I started to realize what a toxic process they’re proposing, taking 450,000 tons of plastic, melting it and making chemicals out of it right next to our river.”

The proposal came from Encina, a Texas-based company that hopes to build chemical recycling plants in the U.S., Mexico, Europe, Middle East and Asia. To date, the company has only recycled plastic at a small demonstration facility in San Antonio, Texas. The facility in Point Township, a suburban and farmland community of about 4,000 people, would be their first attempt to scale their operations.

Field, who lives about four miles from the proposed site, joined a campaign to stop the plant, citing concerns about air emissions and discharges of unregulated pollutants including microplastics and “forever chemicals”(commonly known as PFAS) into the Susquehanna River.

There are proposals in the works for similar chemical recycling plants across the country. According to a 2023 report by the nonprofit activist organization Beyond Plastics, 11 such facilities had already been constructed in the U.S. as of September 2023, with one closing this year.

The Encina site is part of a broader trend of proposed chemical recycling facilities in the Appalachian region. One of the more high profile proposed plants in Youngstown, Ohio, by SOBE Thermal Energy Systems, is currently on hold after the city passed a one-year moratorium on chemical recycling.

Experts say Encina and another proposed chemical recycling facility in Follansbee, West Virginia, are not geographic accidents. Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley are already home to a dense network of oil and gas infrastructure, including fracking and conventional wells, pipelines and a massive plastics plant. Chemical recycling facilities would represent a further expansion of this network, adding to the region’s overall burden of toxic pollution and continuing demand for fossil fuels and related infrastructure.

For example, in 2021, the nonprofit environmental advocacy group PennFuture reported that Pennsylvania subsidizes fossil fuels with an annual amount of $3.8 billion. The shale gas industry accounts for 52.1% of these subsidies, or $2 billion.

Jess Conard, Appalachia director of the nonprofit activist organization Beyond Plastics, lives in East Palestine, Ohio, and experienced the risks associated with living near this type of infrastructure firsthand last year, when a train carrying chemicals used to make plastic derailed and caught fire, poisoning the town.

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