The deep injustice of plastic pollution

The insidious plans of the fossil fuel industry to pollute our world with plastics

Think about plastic pollution. What do you see? An entangled sea turtle? A dead bird with a belly full of bottle caps? A pile of debris floating out of the sea?

If you’ve ever lived near a petrochemical facility, instead, imagine a scene similar to the picture above, photographed by Sierra Club organizer Bryan Parras. It was taken on March 22, 2018 with a view of the Manchester community in Houston, Texas. The torch comes from the Valero refinery.

Valero and hundreds of other petrochemicals in the United States make the plastic pellets that are used to make soda bottles, six-pack holders, and grocery bags. The struggling fossil fuel industry sees plastics production as a lifeline for sustaining its profits as demand in the electrical and transportation sectors plummets.

Petrochemical manufacturing, a precursor to making plastic, accounts for 14 percent of oil consumption and is projected to account for 50 percent of the growth in demand for oil and fracked gas by 2050 – the same year that it is estimated that more plastic than fish is polluted. by weight in our oceans.

Plastic pollution begins long before these toxic single-use products ever reach the ocean.

Houston accounts for “42 percent of the country’s petrochemical manufacturing capacity,” according to the city’s website, which appears to be proudly partnered with Shell, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies. However, the reality for people living near these plants is not that rosy. A 2016 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS) titled Double Jeopardy found compelling evidence that communities in the Houston area with higher color populations and higher levels of poverty are at higher risk exposed to chemical accidents and everyday toxic exposure. “

Across the country, corporate polluters build most of these pollution plants in low-income and colored communities – most of them are in Texas and Louisiana, with the risk of expanding into Appalachia. In east Houston, residents who live near chemical manufacturing are exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals in the air, water and soil. These chemicals include carcinogenic benzene, ethylene dibromide, and formaldehyde.

The pollution from these toxic facilities during normal operation is bad enough – but catastrophic if something goes wrong. In March 2019, a huge tank of millions of gallons of petrochemicals burned in Deer Park, five miles southeast of Houston. The fire released six million pounds of pollutants into the air in the first 24 hours. It burned for five days. This was not an isolated incident. The EPA estimates that 150 “catastrophic accidents”, such as fire or explosions, which release toxic chemicals, occur in such facilities each year.

Across the Texas-Louisiana border, Formosa Plastics, a serial offender with a long history of environmental racism, plans to build 14 plastic manufacturing facilities in Louisiana. The company, which would dump toxic pollution into the air of surrounding cities, was given a green light by the state in January, but has met strong opposition from the communities that the pollution would damage the most.

Residents of Port Lavaca, Texas, a Latin-American majority community, have won a decade-long legal battle to blame the Formosa Plastic Company for illegally dumping billions of plastic pellets and other pollutants into Lavaca Bay, Cox Creek, and other waterways. The company was also responsible for one of Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters, devastating the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen after poisoning fish by releasing chemicals, including cyanide, into the ocean.

Now Formosa Plastics has its sights set on St. James Parish, Louisiana, part of a series of predominantly black communities that line the banks of the Mississippi from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. There are currently 32 petrochemical plants in the municipality – one for every 656 inhabitants. According to the Center for Biodiversity:

“In Louisiana, opponents of the Formosa Project are deciphering its location next to a low-income, predominantly African-American community that has had serious health effects from decades of exposure to industrial pollutants. The communities of St. James, St. John, and St. Charles – –known as Cancer Alley or Death Alley– Have some of the highest levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the air and water of any area in the United States. ”

As reported by ProPublica, The proposed Formosa projects could triple air pollution from local residents in a region already notorious for killing local residents with pollution. If allowed, the petrochemical plants are allowed to release up to 1.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals annually.

The proposed chemical plants would also emit more than 13 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. This is the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants and would be the largest new source of greenhouse gas for a chemical, oil, or gas project in the United States. The project will be built on historical cemeteries, most likely on graves of enslaved people.

“In Taiwan, the government treats petrochemical investments as a polluting industry and stigmatizes us [US] Government encourages investment as long as you meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Ordinance “

When asked why it is building in the US rather than its Taiwan headquarters, Formosa Plastics chairman Jason Lin said, “In Taiwan, the government treats petrochemical investments as a polluting industry and stigmatizes us.” In contrast, “the [US] Government encourages investment as long as you meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Ordinance “- environmental requirements that the Trump administration has fervently stripped of.

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