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


It doesn’t matter if you’re team dark meat or team light meat, we can all agree that disposable dinnerware is a blessing for your Thanksgiving host. 

Cooking is fun. Cleanup is not. 

Fear not, my environmentally conscious host. Innovations brought to you by the chemical industry can take away the guilt of single-use place settings.  

Across the country, companies such as Brightmark Energy, Vadxx and Agilyx are converting those hard-to-recycle plastics into a versatile mix of new chemicals, feedstocks, products and even more environmentally friendly transportation fuels. 

Rigid plastics, including bottles, are collected and recycled with success, but plastics such as polystyrene clamshell food containers, candy wrappers and plastic bags historically have been more of a challenge to recycle. 

Enter the chemical industry, bringing a solution to the table. 

The process is basic chemistry. The plastics are delivered for processing, contaminants are removed, and the plastics are heated, causing a change in chemical composition, and then cooled and condensed into fuels or feedstock for new petroleum-based products, such as plastic bags, bottles and containers. 

Because the molecules do not degrade in this process, it can be repeated indefinitely, creating a completely circular life cycle for a product.   

Combustion does not occur because oxygen is absent from this process. As a result, these facilities produce low or no emissions with a small environmental footprint.

The technologies for advanced chemical recycling and plastics-to-fuel have been proven and available for more than a decade, but through advancements and shifts in the market they did not become economically viable until the last three to five years. 

The global middle class is growing. Access to modern conveniences made possible by plastics is improving living standards, hygiene, nutrition and the quality of life for billions of people, but the challenge of waste management is also growing. 

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is an industry-led group working to educate, innovate and develop waste management infrastructure and drive cleanup efforts to keep plastic waste in the right place.

And innovations such as advanced chemical recycling and plastics-to-fuel are being driven by these industry leaders conscious of the impacts of pollution when waste is not managed. 

Plastics are integral to our life, and certainly a challenge of consumerism is waste. 

Fortunately, thanks to chemistry, we do not have to sacrifice the tools and products of modern society or revert to a reduced quality of life. 

Plastics made it possible for those greens in your festive cranberry walnut salad to stay fresh from farm to table, and the plastic packaging in your overnighted Amazon delivery kept those pumpkin-scented candles in one piece. 

Our holiday season festivities come full circle. That plane, train or automobile that transports you to loved ones near and far just might be fueled by the plates and forks from your Thanksgiving meal last year. 

 So, as you gather around the table set with festive disposable dinnerware, give thanks for another innovation toward a more sustainable future, brought to you by the chemical industry. 

It is widely understood that the chemical and petrochemical industry are an economic driver for Pennsylvania, as this $24 billion industry supports more than 80,000 employees and generates more than $1 billion in annual taxes.

However, it recently came to my attention that many are acutely unaware of industry’s active role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through process improvements, innovative products and new technology.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas liquids have provided the petrochemical industry a more affordable and environmentally friendly feedstock. Chemical building blocks such as ethylene make possible innovations deployed across industries to reduce GHG emissions.

For example, plastic-based building materials, such as insulation and sealants improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption for commercial and residential buildings, ultimately lowering the carbon footprint for large cities like Pittsburgh.

Across transportation, plastic parts have reduced vehicle weight, resulting in improved fuel economy and reduced emissions.

And industry is leading the way toward a circular economy with advanced recycling, enabling manufacturers to convert hard-to-recycle plastics into new chemicals, products, feedstocks and low-sulfur transportation fuels.

But it doesn’t stop there. Efficiency improvements in chemical manufacturing processes drive greater economic output from each energy unit, ultimately helping the world’s largest manufacturers transition to a low-carbon economy.

Chemical and petrochemical companies are a critical ally in reaching state and national emission reduction goals because the chemical industry supports more than 25 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, from 1970 to 2017, U.S. gross domestic product increased by 262 percent while carbon emissions decreased by 23 percent. 

And in Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection reports that in 2015, statewide greenhouse gas emissions had fallen by 12 percent from 2000 levels. 

In a nutshell, because chemicals provide the building blocks for the products we use every day, leadership from this industry has resulted in economy-wide GHG emission reductions that span the entire value chain.

Many of these global leaders, responsible for innovations addressing climate change, have chosen to do business here in Pennsylvania.

I’ll hit a few highlights: 

  • BASF, a global chemical producer with operations in Monaca and Erie developed a special range of underwater grouts that can absorb enormous loads, enabling the safe development of wind turbines to produce renewable energy offshore; 
  • Covestro, a leading polymer materials supplier with U.S. headquarters in Pittsburgh developed a new technology to harness waste carbon emissions from power plants and use it to manufacture a raw material that can be used for flexible foam, found in mattresses, furniture and more; 
  • Braskem, a global petrochemical company with U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia, operations in Marcus Hook and a research-and-development facility in Pittsburgh has been ranked as one of the world’s most innovative companies for research in products made from renewable resources, reducing the need for the production of new raw materials; 
  • Dow, a leader in performance materials, industrial intermediates and plastics businesses with operations in Bristol and Spring House and a Technology Innovation Center Hub in Collegeville, has developed silicone solutions to prevent energy dense battery packs from overheating in electric vehicles;
  • and Eastman Chemical Company, a global advanced materials and specialty additives company with operations in Jefferson Hills has released carbon renewal technology to break down waste plastics into molecular building blocks like carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. 

These companies also serve their local communities by spearheading an array of environmental initiatives.

To name just a few: 

  • Covestro hosted a series of THINC30 Tanks in 2019 to advance the global U.N. sustainable development goals in the local community and was instrumental in the transformation of a blighted property into the Energy Innovation Center, a LEED platinum-certified community space promoting the use of clean technologies; 
  • in 2018, Braskem entered into a nine-year sustainability-focused partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles, building on the team's long-standing commitment to environmental and community development programs; 
  • specialty chemical maker, Albemarle Corporation opened a 50-acre public nature trail and wildlife habitat to conserve and showcase wetlands next to their facility in Tryone; 
  • and a recent donation from Shell Chemicals will increase Beaver County Municipal Recycling’s operations and implement school and community based recycling programs. 

PCIC recognizes the global challenges presented by a changing climate. While the U.S. has made significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, continued commitment and a comprehensive economy-wide approach is critical to addressing this long-term challenge.

A sustainable policy requires a cultural change and participation from both the public and private sector. 

The chemical and petrochemical manufacturing industry contributions in this area should be recognized and industry considered an ally as we advance toward a more sustainable economy. 

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