Petrochemical America

A multimedia show called “Petrochemical America” is at SPACE gallery right now and I’m proud to be a small part of it. Projects like this one (below) are the reason I entered the world of photojournalism. Documentary work provides the opportunity to create awareness and make a positive and helpful difference in the world.

SPACE gallery  812 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh PA
Through October 7, 2017

This multimedia exhibition opened last Wednesday and poses a highly pressing question about our region: Will Pittsburgh forget the lessons learned from its toxic past in writing the next chapter for its future? Via more than 40 photographs, drawings, audio recordings and documentary films. “Petrochemical America: From Cancer Alley to Toxic Valley” hopes to engage regional citizens in a frank conversation about our right to clean air and water. This conversation has become increasingly important with the new construction of a massive oil and gas “cracker” plant being developed by Shell in Beaver County PA.

The images below are part of my long-term documentary work on the impact of fossil fuels on air, land, water and people in western Pennsylvania. The first two photographs below are in the mentioned SPACE gallery exhibition.

Farm Flare, Butler county PA
Jeannie Moten displays her hands.  She developed skin rashes after gas extraction started near her home. She  lost her drinking water and has experienced respiratory problems along with nose bleeds. All of the ailments coincided with gas extraction and processing in her area.
The American Allergy and Asthma Foundation ranks Pittsburgh the fourth most challenging place to live with asthma in the nation, listing air pollution and the number of ozone alert days among the chief reasons why.
The flames are what the gas companies call “flaring”. The fumes from this burning are toxic. Flares exist because pipeline infrastructure is not available.  In short, flares waste gas and pollute the air.
Coal fired power plant

Supporters of EPA regulations against power plant carbon emissions rally in front of the August Wilson Center, 2014
Anti Fracking protester at the Inauguration of Governor Tom Wolf
A natural gas flare near, McDonald, PA. People living close to flares are usually not warned of contaminants from the flares. Flare are used when pipelines are not available.

Barbecue smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), toxic chemicals that can damage your lungs. As meat cooks, drippings of fat hit the coals and create PAHs, which waft into the air. The smoky smell on your clothes and in your hair is also coating the inside of your lungs. The more your grill smokes, the more PAH is generated. The toxins are absorbed along with that delicious smoky flavor into your food. On days labeled high ozone days in western Pennsylvania, outdoor grilling exacerbates the air problem because of air inversions that cause air to stagnate with little movement.


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