Aug 11, 2023

Encina could make Point Township next East Palestine, Ohio

What do you call a place with toxic air, water, and soil? Unimaginable? Uninhabitable? Perhaps you’re thinking of another planet. Have you considered East Palestine, Ohio? These residents now live among contaminated creeks due to a 100% preventable mistake that led to a toxic train derailment in February 2023. East Palestine’s nemesis isn’t the train; it’s the chemicals purposely spilled and set ablaze to keep the trains moving.

I speak as a resident of East Palestine. Be warned: you don’t want these chemicals in your backyard. Encina could make Point Township look (and smell) like East Palestine, Ohio.

Encina is a proposed chemical recycling facility in Point Township. Chemical recycling isn’t recycling, but rather a process that turns plastic into dirty fuel or other chemical components. It is a dangerous operation that has historically failed.

How does this relate to East Palestine? Vinyl chloride, the chemical spilled and burned in East Palestine, is primarily used to make PVC plastic. PVC plastic cannot be recycled. When vinyl chloride is burned, it creates phosgene, dioxins, and other hazardous chemicals. The Encina facility wants to process 450,000 tons of post-consumer plastic waste, annually — including PVC plastic.

Burning plastic waste is horrendous for your health and egregious for the environment. Chemical recycling produces more pollution than the original plastic product and is estimated to emit thousands of pounds of pollution into the air annually. Encina will produce benzene, another chemical spilled in East Palestine — one that’s been linked to leukemia and other blood disorders. Encina’s processing will also emit toluene, xylene, and propylene.

Chemicals produced at Encina can cause cancer, liver and kidney damage, birth defects, nervous system issues, and respiratory issues. In Pascagoula, Mississippi, home to a Chevron chemical recycling facility, the risk of developing cancer was 1 in 4, which is 250,000 times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for “unreasonable.”

If the added health risk isn’t enough, some 100 truckloads of plastic waste will go to Encina daily. Your local roads will need frequent repair, not to mention the added dust pollution, traffic, and noise nuisance in your community.

Highly toxic chemicals produced by Encina will be stored on-site before being transported by rail. Does Point Township have a fire department or first responders equipped to manage fires with multiple chemicals? Additionally, Encina’s proposed location is on the flood plain of the Susquehanna River. Floods will create a serious risk for benzene and other toxins to spill into the river. We know it’s not a matter of if the river will flood, but when.

Encina may be able to bring jobs to your area; however, have you considered the long-term economic impact? Small businesses in East Palestine have reported significant losses, and one multimillion-dollar company has closed its doors forever as a result of the toxic chemical spill. Had the train derailment been a spill of sustainable products like grain or hemp, it would not have devastated my community. It was the notorious “vent and burn” of a well-known carcinogen that created the mess in East Palestine. Don’t make your home a stationary chemical vent and burn.

Encina claims they will follow the law at their facility. Following the law does not eliminate human error or mistakes. Chemical recycling is infamous for disaster at the expense of disempowered communities. Encina will not pay for their errors; Point Township will ultimately pay the price with questionable drinking water, persistent acrid fumes, a polluted river, and the uncertainty that their town will ever be safe again. Norfolk Southern has been named the responsible party in East Palestine, but this one mistake has deprived an entire community of its livelihood for generations.

Encina isn’t the answer to the plastic waste problem. Many companies have tried and failed. Chemical recycling will not remedy the plastic waste problem. There isn’t a great solution to dealing with the plastic waste we currently have; however, moving forward it will be critical to reduce plastic production. We will not get rid of the waste and pollution if we just create more toxic pollution to manage.

Jess Conard is an East Palestine resident and Appalachia director of Beyond Plastics.