Local people encouraged to take survey on proposed Encina project along Susquehanna's North Branch
Nearly a year ago, in April, a Houston, Texas, company announced plans to invest more than $1 billion into a plastics processing plant along the banks of the Susquehanna River near Northumberland.
Encina plans to process approximately 450,000 tons of plastic waste at the facility – those plastics being shipped in from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other nearby metropolitan hubs to the banks of our river. The goal is to process the plastic waste in the presence of very high heat and a proprietary catalyst to produce chemicals that can be used to make new plastic items.
** Survey is below **
During construction of the plant, Encina estimates the need for 700 to 800 workers, but once the site is fully operational, it would employ approximately 300 with an average annual salary of $75,000. However, a spokesperson has later shared that the salary figure includes a small number of higher-paying engineer positions and that the annual salary of the average worker will not reach that figure.
The economic development group DRIVE, based in Danville, is estimating upwards of $2.3 billion in economic impact from the project, and that since there is no other facility doing what Encina proposes at this site, the plant could “put central PA” on the map.
While, in theory, this all sounds promising for the region, it is hard to ignore the numerous open-ended question marks surrounding this project and its potential environmental impact on the Susquehanna River.
For one, there is no track record for such a facility – at the proposed scale – using the methods Encina has in mind to efficiently and safely recycle large amounts of plastic.
They are an out-of-state company with no real local ties that wants to use our river and our proximity to major urbanized areas in Philly, NYC, Pittsburgh and Baltimore to make a profit while handling compounds that carry a laundry list of health concerns.
One of which, the chief catalyst for the chemical reaction they plan to use, is a known carcinogenic when in fibrous form. While, in theory, the catalyst should be used up during such a reaction, there is no steadfast data to show how much may escape the process and wind up in our environment.
(*Update as of 2/24/23: Other, non-fibrous, forms of the catalyst are not carcinogenic and are used in certain everyday products. Encina recently shared that it does not plan to use the fibrous form. We are hoping to find out soon specifically which form of this catalyst they will be using and any potential risks (or lack thereof) may be associated with it.))
The chemicals they would extract from their process, benzene, toluene, xylene and propylene (sometimes abbreviated BTX/P) have been associated with a number of health effects in humans including nervous damage/dysfunction, potential liver and kidney damage, birth defects and cancer.
The site is anticipated to draw upwards of 2.5 million gallons of water per day from the Susquehanna River, returning two-thirds of that after a variety of uses, including the cleaning of plastic materials. While there are strict guidelines about the quality of the water returned to the river, even a small fluctuation in temperature or contaminants could have an immediate ripple effect in the river both locally and downstream.
There have been some interesting developments from a regulatory standpoint concerning this plant. Because they are pursuing permits under an “advanced recycling” classification vs. waste management or waste incineration, former Governor Tom Wolf’s administration exempted the facility from having to obtain a solid waste permit and the additional protections that would provide.
The company plans to develop the site in two phases – the first would accept, clean and sort plastics. The advanced/chemical recycling aspect of the process isn’t planned until Phase 2.
Yet another concern is that the facility is located within the 100-year floodplain of the Susquehanna River. Even with extremely cautious and mindful construction of the site, what are the odds of a potentially massive negative impact on the river the next time it swells to an advanced flood stage?
Finally, does Encina have the resources to completely redefine a plastics industry that is currently only seeing and utilizing a 5 to 6 percent recycling rate? If not, the whole premise of this plant falls apart. What plan is there for facilitating the cutback of companies making first-time plastic products?
Ultimately, all of this leads to many more questions than answers for us, and there is much to learn to really know what the greater impact of this project will be. We hope to have more open conversations with Encina, with state agencies and with local individuals and families about all of this.
In an effort to facilitate that open dialogue, we encourage you to share your thoughts about the Encina project via this online survey. It will help us gauge how much the local public knows – and wants to know – about all of this and will help us prepare for another round of discussions with Encina and local groups connected to the project.
Any responses used will only be done so anonymously.
2/16/2023 06:08:46 pm
Definitely am concerned about the impacts Encina will have on our environmental safety and would like to know more. I feel strongly that the community has no idea what is being brought to the region and the potential dangers it may have for our entire region
2/17/2023 09:18:33 am
Are locals aware this same Supervisor for the Point was involved in stopping the tire burner a few years back?
2/18/2023 03:52:17 am
So they are telling us how bad it is to recycle plastic and the landfills are filling up so burning trash is a bad thing?
2/17/2023 10:46:42 am
Where is any evidence from their Texas pilot facility? How large is it -- a small lab, or something bigger? Apparently that site has only been in operation a few short months -- far too premature to proceed with such a sizable facility for this area. They should be able to provide at least several years of safe, effective, economically-viable date -- all of which is missing.
2/17/2023 02:50:12 pm
To consider a plant (of any kind) to be built so close to the river, with any possibility of pollution, seems unreasonable.
2/17/2023 06:50:31 pm
This is a potential Disaster just like the derailment and evacuation in Ohio last week!
2/18/2023 05:37:05 am
As always it seems the question is. Do we put a 2.3 billion dollar price tag on are irreplaceable environment. Most people seem to think, why not. We have been destroying it for centuries. I would guess we've not learned much from our mistakes.this whole process needs deep and factual evaluation, by a completely independent party.
2/18/2023 06:28:18 am
I have been interested in this proposed project since I first learned of it, because of the (theoretical) potential to reduce the creation of new plastic. However, the concerns expressed in the article above and people's comments have really made me think. My main concern is how the project would affect the river. I am still not opposed to the project but it is clear that Encina needs to be more transparent about it. An independent evaluation is a good idea.
2/18/2023 07:28:21 am
The susquehanna is currently negatively impacted be low water and thermal population, this project will make it worse.
- On one hand…I am a local and this is a “not in my backyard” type usage.
2/18/2023 07:36:33 am
Also….the link to the survey is not working for me….
2/18/2023 08:45:50 am
Well fortunately for them people out here dumb and uneducated so they should be able to get away with murder and then not get blamed for it
2/18/2023 09:58:19 am
Fred, don’t agree with your premise, but you might be right about the outcome.
2/18/2023 02:04:48 pm
Sure, there are uneducated residents everwhere. I received this info via email from Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Assoc. Inc. I signed up to receive their emails. How are those who we're calling, uneducated, learning about this proposed project? Many informative articles placed in PA newspapers, would be great.
2/18/2023 04:01:05 pm
This article and "survey" are very negatively biased. I appreciate healthy skepticism, but not plain old NIMBYism. I think some folks in our area get visions of reckless coal mining operations any time an industrial project or natural resource utilization is proposed. We have a century of compounded regulations that make it a huge feat of engineering and red tape navigation just to get a facility like this permitted. I encourage the Riverkeepers to review their selection of questions and the tone of their "survey" to make sure they are actually collecting genuine opinions and questions in good faith from a broad range of local residents, and aren't just building a list of folks who see a bunch of unfamiliar chemical-sounding words and hypothetical disasters and jump on the "not in my backyard" bandwagon.
2/18/2023 05:00:41 pm
I must disagree Nate. Many of us know the chemical names and have heard of their cancer causing toxicity. NIMBYism doesn't feel like the issue. The issue is, this has a huge potential for disaster. The most recent environmental disaster in E. Palestine, OH comes to mind. A century of modern railroading should have prevented this 'train wreck.' But, as with all things, accidents do, and will happen. These unlucky residents in Ohio, just happen to live next to the train tracks where the derailment hapoened. It could have happened before, or after their town. It just happened there and now they are stuck with the potential for decades of poisoned ground water, soil, poor air quality etc. This proposed plastic facility will be in place between Northumberland & Danville. Any potential accidents will be right there. And the consequences will be felt not only in My Backyard, but every backyard down river. This is a much bigger issue than we'd like to believe. Haven't we learned lessons the hard way already? Outside New Orleans, where chemical plants & oil refineries are situated, it is known by the local residents as, cancer alley.
2/18/2023 05:37:07 pm
"Danville Resident," your examples are emotionally provocative, but statistically rare. Humans certainly can and do make mistakes, and unanticipated mechanical failures can and do, on very rare occasions, result in disasters. However, contrary to your rhetoric, we do learn from those failures, and incorporate improved preventative measures with every design iteration and site improvement. You are of course entitled to oppose a plastics recycling plant in our shared backyard based on those fears, but I am open to learning more about the mechanical and chemical processes, logistics, and environmental planning before passing judgement. My point was primarily that the author(s) has pretty clearly already formed an opinion and, intentionally or not, has worded the article and "survey" questions in a manner that will heavily influence their "survey" results.
2/20/2023 08:46:13 am
Thanks for sharing, Nate. A few quick thoughts:
Lisa B Erikson
3/3/2023 09:15:30 am
3/7/2023 02:54:09 pm
Excellent response John.
2/19/2023 05:45:19 am
For the powers that be.
2/19/2023 06:05:36 am
Thank you. Well stated.
Marcy In h
2/19/2023 11:03:06 pm
Look what just happened in Ohio. We do not want this in our area.
2/21/2023 12:01:04 pm
Many of the comments express the themes I wrote about in the online survey.I oppose this plant primarily from an environmental standpoint. Encino,why here? Why not expand or add another site at your Texas location? The first invasion of white trucks from Texas hasn't worked out so well and gas pads have scared many of the wilderness areas I spend time in. Thanks but no thanks-go give all that bounty at home.
3/2/2023 04:17:08 am
I attended the entire 3/1/23 Q&A conference call hosted by Encina. Some questions were answered, more were not. This proposed project is in its early stages. Get informed...get involved. Thanks to John Z. and his team for what they've done so far.
3/2/2023 05:20:04 am
I've studied this project intimately since its conception. It is designed to reduce the plastics pollution problem we have in this country/world and to do it with maximum safeguards against any impacts to the environment. I can see how people are naturally suspicious of any new plant coming to their area, but this company is doing it responsibly, investing in protecting the environment ahead of profits. Before you jump to conclusions and speculate on just how bad it may be, please educate yourselves to the extent possible, you may just be pleasantly surprised that this project exceeds your expectations.
Lisa B Erikson
3/3/2023 09:09:26 am
Educate myself led to a 2014 interview by the Time herald in Miami with David Zschwedel-owner and founder of EncinaQ. What will be your next step? A. I have a fundamental belief that the big three fuels: coal, oil, and gas, will be used to generate energy for the world for the next 40-plus years. Renewables are an important part of our future of course, but there are limitations. The reality is it will be tough for large countries to get away from the “big three.”
3/2/2023 08:08:58 am
I listened to the phone call last night. I was first alerted to the proposed plant based on John's article in his book and since have been actively trying to find out more. I greatly appreciate both John and the Encina group for the information. I am deeply concerned yet am working to keep an open mind. My life has been spent in association with the Bay and River. I grew up in Havre de Grace in the 60s and 70s and 'lived' on the river, creeks, and bay. They are part of my DNA. My mom died of liver cancer, she never smoked but did consume well water from the 1950s to early 1980s. We lived a 1/2 mile from the river. I intimately know people/companies/universities constantly mislead the public for various reasons. I live in the community. I work with farmers who produce product we eat and which has to be kept 'clean'. I surveyed 5 people on Tuesday this week if they knew about the plant and what they thought. These were male workers in businesses associated with Point Township and/or Shik State Park Overlook. None of them knew anything about the plant and regardless, were not concerned. It has all been interesting...I don't know if I can have any influence on anything but regardless, I plan to learn everything I can from all sides. Water draw, Water recycling/filtering and put back, Anaerobic process of plastic and components, train system used and disposal of toxic components - where will they go, what train company will be used and their safety history, what environmental impact plans are evaluated and by who, what monitoring systems will be in place, what is the history and academic background of the people on the call last night, what are the patents registered for parts of the process, what is the evolving science on recycling, who are the companies that will use and process the output products, etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately, we need the technology and process as not too many people are giving up all their dependence on plastics. Plastics process is something we all need to know about if we truly care about our current and future environment and legacy. I welcome working with anyone and everyone to learn more. Sandy
3/3/2023 03:12:45 pm
"If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is."
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John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.