Home » Petrochemicals
Photo by Mark Dixon.

Petrochemicals—oil- and gas-based chemicals used to make plastics and pesticides—are harmful to human health and the environment. The process of making petrochemicals creates dangerous air and water pollution. People living near petrochemical production facilities have higher risk of many types of cancer, birth complications, asthma and respiratory illness, and kidney disease. Children are especially vulnerable to harm from petrochemical pollutants. 

Petrochemical production facilities tend to be located in Black communities and poor communities because of decades of racial discrimination in housing and financial services. In majority-Black census tracts, the estimated risk of cancer from toxic air emissions is more than twice the risk found in majority-white tracts. In 2021, the United Nations officially declared petrochemical growth along “Cancer Alley” in the US Gulf Coast a form of environmental racism.

Now, petrochemical development has come to Appalachia. Shell’s enormous new petrochemical plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania threatens our health and our environment. In 2022, the facility went over its annual emissions allowance set by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The facility has also begun churning out plastic pellets, called “nurdles,” into the Ohio River.

Learn more about petrochemicals and their outsized threat to Black communities with Bishop Marcia Dinkins, Dr. Melanie Meade, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, President & CEO of Hip Hop Caucus:


The map below plots oil, gas, and petrochemical sites in the Ohio River Valley and the percentage of Black residents by county and census tract. Click the blue dots for more information about each site, including its permitted carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. Mouse over the map to view demographic data—darker green counties and census tracts indicate a higher percentage of Black residents. Or, use the “search” function to find your community on the map.