Desmogblog.com — A new report traces the life cycle of plastic from the moment an oil and gas well is drilled to the time plastic trash breaks down in the environment, finding “distinct risks to human health” at every stage.
Virtually all plastic — 99 percent of it, according to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) report — comes from fossil fuels. And a growing slice comes from fracked oil and gas wells and the natural gas liquids (NGLs) they produce.
The report concluded that plastics bring toxic or carcinogenic health risks to people at every stage.
“Until we confront the impacts of the full plastic lifecycle, the current piecemeal approach to addressing the plastic pollution crisis will not succeed,” the report concludes. “At every stage of its life cycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposure to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals.”
The scope of the risks requires an international response, the center said.
“Both the supply chains and the impacts of plastic cross and re-cross borders, continents, and oceans,” said David Azoulay, the center’s Director of Environmental Health. “No country can effectively protect its citizens from those impacts on its own, and no global instrument exists today to fully address the toxic life cycle of plastics.”
In the U.S., however, a major push is underway — and attracting hundreds of billions in investment, both foreign and domestic — to move in the opposite direction and produce more plastics and other petrochemicals.
The goal? To create new demand from industry for the raw materials produced by fracked shale wells.
Shale drilling industry officials have been busy organizing marketing efforts to encourage the production of more plastics and petrochemicals — not only along the Gulf Coast, where communities have long borne the brunt of toxic pollution from petrochemical manufacturing, but also in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Industry groups argue that a shale-fueled plastics boom is a positive thing for the world environment because plastic-makers in many other countries operate under less stringent environmental controls than American manufacturers. It’s better, in other words, to make plastic here than in places like China, with its infamous air pollution problems.
The shale rush not only unleashed enormous supplies of fracked oil and gas, it also opened wide the taps for ethane, a colorless, odorless hydrocarbon at the center of the drilling industry’s plans to promote more plastic manufacturing. In 2008, America produced 701,000 barrels a day of ethane; by 2017, ethane production had more than doubled, reaching 1.426 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). It will reach 2 million barrels a day by 2021, IHS Markit predicts…
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