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A group called Concerned Ohio River Residents (CORR) met on Wednesday with a representative from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) Director Laurie Stevenson to discuss a new petrochemical plant that’s been permitted to operate in the region. 

“It took concerned residents over six months to get this meeting,” said Cheryl Johncox of the Sierra Club. The group is worried about the proposal by Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical America, and its partners, to build what’s called an ethane cracker.  It would use ethane, now abundant because of the region’s natural gas production, to make tiny plastic pellets used in manufacturing. 

Shell Chemical is already building an ethane cracker along the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, which will produce 1.8 million tons of plastic pellets each year.

The OEPA issued air and water pollution permits to PTTGCA in 2018 for the plant, although the company has not officially announced it is moving forward with the project.  The citizens’ group asked Stevenson to withdraw the permits until the OEPA better studies already existing pollution in the Ohio River. 

“That water permit was issued without testing for current levels of toxics in the Ohio River,” Johncox contends, noting that the river is a drinking water source for millions of people.

A statement emailed to The Allegheny Front by an OEPA spokesperson, said the state used available water quality in the permit review process, “…the Director also talked with the group about the Agency’s responsibility to enforce its permits if this project moves forward and our intention to provide transparency for monitoring data that we receive,” the OEPA email continued. 

CORR also expressed concern over “nurdles,” the name given to the tiny plastic pellets that will be manufactured at the plant that can accidentally escape into the environment. Communities near a petrochemical plant in Texas report finding many millions of them in the water and on beaches.

“I am talking about nurdles, and then I’m talking about other small shavings that would come off during the process of making nurdles,” Johncox said. “Those all can be discharged into our waterways.”

In an email last year to The Allegheny Front, OEPA stated, “All Ohio wastewater discharge permits prohibit the discharge of ‘free froms’,” including the permit issued by Ohio to PTTGCA. “Discharge of nurdles would violate this condition if they were in significant enough quantities,” the OEPA email stated.

At the meeting this week, the OEPA statement said  it offered to connect the citizens group with agency technical experts. Meanwhile, Concerned Ohio River Residents asked Governor DeWine to visit Belmont County, where the PTT would be located, to discuss the impact of natural gas development and the coming petrochemical industry. 

We didn’t get a response back from that specifically,” Johncox said. “But, you know, they did say that they were interested in continuing dialog with us.”

Ever Hear of a Nurdle? This New Form of Pollution Could be Coming to the Ohio River