It's hard to believe it was just last March that COVID-19 took hold in our state. This past year has taken a physical, mental and emotional toll on so many. In spite of and through those challenges, communities came together, leaders created solutions and there have been so many inspiring stories from Pennsylvania - particularly from the state's chemical industry. 

Of course, we may be biased, so we'll let their work and generous acts over the last year tell the story and others share their thoughts. 


From disinfectants and wipes to ventilators, test tubes and vaccines, chemicals are the building blocks, and chemistry the starting point, for almost every product used to manage COVID-19. Pennsylvania ranks eighth nationally in manufacturing, with chemicals as the top sector. This industry exports $8.9 billion annually in manufactured goods, supplying the regional, national and global healthcare markets.

In March 2020, amid the closure of nonessential businesses, Pennsylvania’s chemical manufacturers pressed play on company crisis action plans, increased production and retrofitted operations to meet the demand for disinfectants and to provide hospitals and health care workers with the medical equipment and intensive care tools needed to treat patients.

In March and April, employees of Braskem, a global petrochemical company, voluntarily lived on-site at their Marcus Hook facility for 28 days, working around the clock to manufacture polypropylene and produce nonwoven fabric to help meet the demand for N95 masks, hospital gowns, hoods and sanitary wipes.

With supplies for disinfectants scarce, Pressure Chemical Co. in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania engaged in several discussions with the Allegheny Health Network to reserve operations scheduling to be on-call for potential sanitizer manufacturing demands, and supplied products to local distilleries in a collaborative effort to increase the region’s sanitizer supply. The company also ramped up production of thermochromic products it supplies for disposable thermometers to help meet the demand for these units.

As part of mitigation efforts, many states, including Pennsylvania, required shields to be installed at retailers where cashiers or clerks interact with the public. Arkema, with its Plexiglas business headquarters in Bristol, Pennsylvania coordinated efforts from Pennsylvania to maximize production at its sheet plants across the country to meet the demand and keep retailers, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential, public-facing businesses open. The company also repurposed a production line at its plant in Geneseo, New York to manufacture 10,000 gallons – enough to fill 110,000 12 oz. bottles – of hand sanitizer solution. This solution, made with the company’s own hydrogen peroxide, was donated to four states the company has key operations in, including Pennsylvania.

“This past year amplified how strong and resilient our essential workers are especially in times of crisis – and chemical manufacturers are no exception,” Acting Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health Alison Beam said. “This network of committed individuals has sacrificed a lot over the last year and that does not go unnoticed. The Wolf Administration continues to navigate through this pandemic by getting more vaccine into arms and advocating to all Pennsylvanians to practice health habits like washing your hands, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask as you continue to serve our communities across the commonwealth.”

As the pandemic and mitigation efforts have evolved, the high demand products and tools have also evolved and manufacturers have kept pace. As vaccine distribution moves forward, Styropek in Monaca, Pennsylvania has ramped up production on its expanded polystyrene resin to manufacture polystyrene coolers to protect the vaccines in transit and distribution.  


Pennsylvania’s chemical manufacturers have made significant global and state contributions in products over the last year, and they are helping to meet the needs of their local communities.

3M’s manufacturing team in Aston, Pennsylvania donated boxes of safety glasses to Einstein Medical Center and MossRehab in Philadelphia. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, 3M has doubled its annual global output of N95 respirators to over 2 billion; and produces nearly 100 million per month in the United States.

Albemarle donated 40 liters of Isopropyl Alcohol to their local Tyrone Community Pharmacy for hand sanitizer production. The company also purchased and donated hand sanitizer to local AMED (Ambulance Service), N95 masks to the Tyrone Police Department, and goggles and face shields to the Tyrone Hospital.

"The COVID-19 pandemic created extraordinary supply chain challenges for hospitals trying to secure the personal protective equipment and resources needed to respond to the crisis,” said Andy Carter, President and CEO, for The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). “Seeing the urgent need for supplies, Pennsylvania’s state government, manufacturing, and life sciences organizations came together to retool their operations and support the health care community during this difficult time. This collaboration early on during the pandemic made a huge difference in the availability of resources, which directly helped our patients and health care workers; and it will pay dividends in the future.”

Covestro, with its North American headquarters in Pittsburgh, donated $67,500 to local food programs experiencing a significant increase in need.

Dow, with manufacturing and research and development sites in Bristol, Collegeville and Croydon, Pennsylvania, retrofitted an existing facility to produce hand sanitizer to meet demand early on. Dow also donated $3 million to COVID-19 efforts — $2 million to assist with immediate impacts and $1 million to build community resilience in the recovery phase.

DuPont, with a manufacturing facility in Towanda, donated 100 cases of Tyvek® protective suits to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to distribute to health care workers with the highest need statewide.

LANXESS, a specialty chemical firm with its head office for the Americas region in Pittsburgh, provided boxes of latex gloves, lab coats and masks to the Allegheny County Public Works Department.

PPG, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, donated more than 20,000 N95 masks to UPMC and Allegheny Health Network hospitals.

Shell Polymers partnered with the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce in May to donate care packages with COVID-19 safety items, household essentials, food and gas cards to local families and individuals in need. The company also helped fund lunches to front-line workers and made donations to local organizations, including the Beaver County YMCA, Meals on Wheels, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and local hospitals. In September, through its partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Shell Polymers procured a truckload of food and other supplies from Convoy of Hope and set up a drive-thru site to distribute food and other disaster relief supplies to more than 1,000 families in Beaver County. Additionally, with the donation of thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer, close to one thousand N95 masks, gloves and face shields to health care organizations, Shell continues to play a role in ensuring Pennsylvania’s frontline workers have the necessary equipment to safely carry on with their essential work.

“It’s often an afterthought where the products we use every day originate until we can’t get them. This pandemic has demonstrated how critical the role is that these companies play in the health and safety of our communities and how fortunate we are to have a strong base here in Pennsylvania, reducing our reliance on imported products,” said Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council President, Abby Foster. “We thank them for their leadership and innovation in getting the job done safely in extraordinary circumstances to meet demand, while also caring for their local communities.”  

Pennsylvania's chemical manufacturing sector has been fully operational throughout the pandemic and these frontline workers will be eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 1B under the state's vaccination plan so they may continue to provide essential products and services to Pennsylvania.

How can we do more with less?

That question is not about reducing costs, it’s about how we can use less resources, while still maintaining the quality of life to which we are accustomed.  

Plastic products play a significant role in our daily lives -- both with the products we physically touch and utilize and those at work behind the scenes. Increasingly, these products are also playing an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our overall impacts on the environment. For example, plastic-based building materials, such as insulation and sealants, improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption in buildings, and plastic parts reduce vehicle weights, resulting in improved fuel economy and reduced emissions. Across industry sectors plastic innovations are reducing our impact on the environment.

In the past, how these products are managed after use has presented a challenge where innovations in technology and industry are now helping to provide a solution. Advanced recycling technologies utilize post-use plastics, which may otherwise be landfilled, as feedstock to create new products.  

On November 25, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill into law to ensure companies utilizing these technologies are appropriately regulated as manufacturers and not waste facilities in Pennsylvania.

"Addressing climate change is one of the most important issues that we face, and that is why my administration has made it a top priority to support comprehensive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste, including the growing challenge of reducing plastic waste in landfills," Wolf said. "This measure offers an innovative way to manage hard-to-recycle plastics, which not only will reduce waste but also support an emerging recycling industry."

House Bill 1808, now Act 127, was introduced by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (PA-134) to provide regulatory certainty for companies considering investments in Pennsylvania. The legislation also makes clear that these facilities are not taking in or handling municipal waste, and are fully compliant with all Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Environmental Protection Agency permitting requirements.

“Advanced recycling presents an emerging market in the United States, and we have seen these facilities successfully deployed at a commercial scale in other states over the last seven years,” Mackenzie said. “They are having a tremendous impact in their communities, reducing waste in the surrounding regions while demonstrating a business model that does more with less. I look forward to welcoming this industry to our state and seeing Pennsylvania’s economy and environment benefit.”

Successful recycling infrastructure already exists for plastics labeled Nos. 1-2, such as soda bottles and milk jugs. These advanced recycling operations are focused on plastics Nos. 3-7, such as candy wrappers, bags and packaging, which are a burden on municipal recycling programs because they cannot be recycled in the existing mechanical recycling infrastructure. Advanced recycling technologies will not replace existing recycling infrastructure but rather work in concert with it. 

"Over the last decade, recycling tonnages and public demand for services have increased significantly while recycling infrastructure, technology and waste management teams work to keep up,” said Holly Vogt, Beaver County Department of Waste Management’s director and sustainability/recycling coordinator. “Many haulers are collecting only select plastics curbside due to limited end users. These advanced recycling technologies have created a new end-use market for plastics that have previously been a challenge to recycle. We look forward to offering new services to our customers and partnering with companies to supplement our operations and reduce the footprint of waste by diverting valuable materials. This is an exciting opportunity to expand and enhance recycling both locally and beyond."  

While this technology may be new to Pennsylvania, across the country, private companies are already manufacturing post-use plastics at a commercial scale into a versatile mix of new chemicals, feedstocks, products and more environmentally friendly transportation fuels. For example, Shell Chemicals is using a liquid feedstock made from plastic waste, supplied by Nexus Fuels, in its chemical plant in Norco, LA to make a range of new products and Brightmark recently initiated a national site search for their next $1 billion advanced plastic recycling facility. In April, Brightmark narrowed its search and Pennsylvania is one of seven states still in the running. This facility is expected to manufacture 200,000 tons of waste plastics annually into new products. The regulatory certainty provided this legislation will provide companies an additional reason to consider an investment in Pennsylvania.

The process is basic chemistry. Plastics Nos. 3-7 are delivered for processing, any remaining contaminants are removed, and the plastics are heated, causing a change in chemical composition, and then cooled and condensed into feedstock for new petroleum-based products. This is not incineration as combustion does not occur because oxygen is absent from the closed loop process. 

“Plastics play a critical role in modern society and are too valuable to be thrown away or burned,” said Abby Foster, president of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council. “These technologies extend the product life cycle and are providing a free market solution to help address a global and domestic challenge of waste management. Pennsylvania is fortunate to have a strong and growing petrochemical and plastics market, and potentially now an advanced recycling market to make a truly circular economy for plastics here in the commonwealth.”  

According to the American Chemistry Council, converting just 25 percent of the recoverable post-use plastics in Pennsylvania could support 10 advanced recycling manufacturing facilities, resulting in $314 million in new economic output annually.


As many of us adjust to working from the couch, with daytime television in the background and a confused dog at our side, it’s business as usual or double-time for the majority of Pennsylvania’s manufacturers and their supply chains. 

Critical to our ability to contain COVID-19, flatten the curve and treat those with confirmed cases are the necessary tools, supplies and infrastructure for the healthcare professionals on the front lines to get the job done.  

Disinfectants and intensive care medical equipment, such as ventilators and respirators, personal protective equipment such as reusable masks and gloves, therapeutics and laboratory supplies are all created using, or supported by, chemical manufacturing and each of these products are currently being manufactured in Pennsylvania. 

For the rest of us practicing social distancing from the confines of our home, we still need clean running water, electricity, food and medications to stay safe and healthy -- and that means continued manufacturing operations. 

The products in your grocery store, the ingredients for your last Grubhub order and the package containing the last available roll of toilet paper on Amazon that was just delivered to your doorstep don’t originate from just one retailer or one manufacturer. A product’s journey from raw material to your home is supported by hundreds, sometimes thousands of different companies. 

Take disinfectant wipes as an example -- a combination of polyester, cotton, cellulose from wood pulp, rayon fibers and sometimes polypropylene and polyethylene to reinforce the strength of the sheet. Each of those is a separate raw material manufacturer. To provide the cleaning and disinfectant power, wipes will typically contain potassium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite, ammonium chloride and other substances. Again, a variety of chemical manufacturers support the production of those chemicals.  

That is just a description for the product. You also need packaging -- polyethylene or a pulp papermill to make the package, ink for labeling, adhesives to seal it, pallets to load and unload the product onto a truck, auto part manufacturers to ensure trucks can keep moving product and we haven’t even begun to dive into the manufacturers that make the parts and service the machines used by other manufacturers that are now working overtime to fulfill demand and will most certainly need replacements and repairs.

You can see how if the wrong jenga piece is pulled, it all comes crashing down, leaving food to rot at the manufacturer or cleaning supplies stuck in one part of the chain with no way to move forward. 

On March 19, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency Office developed a Memorandum on the Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response to serve as a template for states on what industry sectors are essential and which should halt operations. This was a well thought out guideline that took into consideration the intricate nature of manufacturing and the importance of the supply chains that support each life-essential product. 

We appreciate that on March 20, Gov. Wolf followed the guidance of the Department of Homeland Security and updated the previous guidance issued by his administration to allow for the continued operation of those companies. 

While the general public might not understand that an industry subsector of adhesives is critical to the healthcare community to provide medical tapes and bonding, medical wearables, blood glucose monitoring strips and adhesive closures, the Department of Homeland Security ensured it was included in their comprehensive view of the complicated matrix of manufacturing necessary to sustain life. 

Chemicals are the building blocks, and chemistry is the starting point, for almost every product we need to survive. Pennsylvania ranks eighth nationally in manufacturing with chemicals as the top sector. As a significant exporter to our neighboring states and across the country, the decisions we make and our ability to continue production of life-essential products will play a significant role in how quickly we as a country are able to flatten the curve.  

Manufacturers across the state, acutely aware of their role in supporting the supply chain for critical products and services to fight COVID-19 have reduced operations to only the essential staff necessary to complete safe operations. From the assembly line making valves for the machines producing N95 masks to the process operator ensuring plant efficiency and monitoring quality, they are working hard for all of us.

As you pace the confines of your house today, consider all of the products you still have access to that are keeping you healthy and safe and the tools medical professionals are relying on to fight this virus and help those in need. Consider the manufacturer, the manufacturer’s supplier, their supplier and the men and women that continue to go to work for us -- and if you know one, say thank you.  


DHS CISA Memo and Guidelines (issued 3/19)

PA Gov. Wolf Order (issued 3/19)

PA Gov. Wolf Guidance on Life-essential Business Sectors (updated 3/20)

DCED Order / Business FAQs (issued 3/20)

DCED Waiver Exemption Application


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