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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