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NOTE: This story was updated on Friday, February 14th

The non-profit Freshwater Accountability Project announced that it will receive a $40,000 grant to start testing the air and water in Belmont County, Ohio, near the site of a proposed petrochemical plant. Called an ethane cracker, the project by Thailand-based PTTGC America and Daelim Industrial Co., Ltd., of South Korea would produce up to 1.5 million metric tons of plastic pellets annually.

Similar to the Shell ethane cracker in Pennsylvania, the Ohio plant would use ethane, now abundant because of the region’s natural gas production, to produce pellets, which are used by other industries to manufacture plastic products.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has already issued air and water permits for the PTTGC plant. 

According to Leatra Harper, head of Freshwater Accountability Project, those permits, “… are not adequately protective of our breathable air and our drinkable water,” she said.

She said before the plant is built, the community needs more data about current levels for contaminants like fine particulate matter and volatile organic compounds such as benzene. 

In an email about these concerns, Ohio EPA spokesperson Jame Lee said, “…Ohio EPA is not in a position to collect additional data at this time.” 

Harper’s group will use grant money from Pennsylvania-based Community Foundation for the Alleghenies (which also provides funding for The Allegheny Front) to collect air and water quality data at schools and daycare and senior centers near the Ohio cracker plant site. 

“We’re seeing that in order to hold polluters accountable, more and more people have to do their own baseline testing for markers of pollutants that are released, especially by new industries,” Harper said. 

Williamson called the Ohio River a “national treasure,” and said the company is committed to protecting it. 

When it comes to plastic pollution, Williamson says PTTGC understands that global concern is growing over single use plastics. PTTGC’s home country, Thailand, has already banned major stores from providing single use bags to customers. 

Williamson pointed to an article in the Bangkok Post, where the company president said PTTGC has already shifted most of its production toward reusable plastic products.

“They [PTTGC] are very active in plastics recycling and upcycling,” he said. “So the issues of climate change and plastics pollution, these companies share the concerns of the folks who are raising those concerns here.”

The company does not know yet who its customers in Ohio would be, so Williamson could not say if the raw materials it produces would focus on reusable products, as opposed to single use plastics, like grocery store bags. 

The Bangkok Post reports that a final investment decision should be reached by mid 2020, but Williamson would not confirm that.

Ohio Group Worried About Water Pollution From Ethane Cracker Gets State Meeting, But Little Action

Environmental Groups Secure Air Protections at Proposed Ohio Cracker Plant