Investigation: Cracker Plant Will bring Jobs, Pollution

Some medical experts said breathing will be much harder once plant is up and running

By Paul Van Osdol
WTAE Investigative Reporter

May 9. 2019 – MONACA, Pa. — The massive ethane cracker plant in Beaver County is bringing thousands of jobs to Western Pennsylvania.

But Action News Investigates has learned it may also bring thousands of tons of air pollutants to a region that already has some of the nation’s dirtiest air.

At the cracker plant site, dozens of cranes soar into the sky as thousands of construction workers assemble the petrochemical facility that will convert natural gas liquids into plastics.

The project has breathed new life into what was an industrial wasteland.

But some medical experts who are also environmental advocates said breathing will be much harder once the plant is up and running.

“To me it’s about breathing. It’s about health,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, a retired pediatrician affiliated with Pitt’s Climate and Global Change Center.

He said the plant’s toxic fumes will affect health as far south as Pittsburgh.

“Allegheny County is already dealing with higher risks of cancer because of air pollution and I believe this is going to make things much worse,” Ketyer said.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are a major industrial pollutant. Environmental Protection Agency records show the industrial plant with the largest VOC emissions in Western Pennsylvania is the Clairton Coke Works, with 291 tons of VOCs in 2014, the most recent year available.

But the cracker plant’s state permit says it is allowed up to 522 tons of VOCs per year.

Ammonia is another air toxin.

“That can have immediate effects on the brain and the liver,” Ketyer said.

EPA records show the Coke Works and U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock combined emitted 139 tons of ammonia in 2014.

But the cracker plant’s permit allows for even more — 152 tons. Continue reading Investigation: Cracker Plant Will bring Jobs, Pollution

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On the Rise: Solar Farms Begin Cropping Up in Western Pa

Solar farm in Smith Twp, near Burgettstown.

By Megan Tomasic
TribLive

May 5, 2019 – Down a gravel road close to what constitutes downtown Slovan in rural Washington County, roughly 3,500 solar panels stand in a field of green grass, their blue-hued faces tilted toward the sun.

The development, one of the largest solar farms in Western Pennsylvania, spans 4.5 acres and can power about 750 homes. It’s just a small part of a national trend infiltrating the Pennsylvania landscape.

A similar project is slated to occupy 12 acres of Hempfield, Westmoreland County. Almost 11,000 solar panels will be visible from Hunker-Waltz Mill Road, near Westinghouse Electric Co.

But the state still has a long way to go, with only three major solar farm projects powering roughly 575 homes and one business — Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Snyder’s-­Lance in Hanover and Elizabethtown Solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, a solar energy advocacy group.

Westmoreland and Allegheny counties have no big solar projects, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The report does not include individual panels on the rooftops of residential homes, said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, press secretary for the PUC.

While there are few solar farm developments in the immediate area, Pennsylvania has a growing number of solar jobs.

Between 2017 and 2018, the number of jobs increased by 10%, accounting for almost 4,220 workers, according to Avery Palmer, communications director at The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting solar and solar technology.

“Most of the jobs will be at companies that install solar on rooftops or commercial businesses,” Palmer said. “With that said, large utility-­scale farms are a major job creator in other states, and developing these projects could help create even more solar jobs in Pennsylvania.” Continue reading On the Rise: Solar Farms Begin Cropping Up in Western Pa