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.
RAMPING UP PRODUCTION
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.