America’s consumption patterns can be traced to the landscape of Cancer Alley. Over one hundred oil reﬁneries and chemical manufacturing facilities are intermixed with sugar reﬁneries, metal processors, and coﬀee production facilities, revealing the demands of the nation’s past and present. Pure engineering alchemy is on display. The building blocks derived from oil, coal and natural gas shown in the diagram above become an array of chemicals and end-products like medical equipment, cars, computers, bombs, cosmetics, building materials, inks and cleaning agents. For instance, propylene is used to make acetone, which is transformed through several steps into polymethylmethacrylate, known by the brand name Plexiglas. It is also turned into isopropyl alcohol, used in antifreeze and as a home remedy for swimmer’s ear. Meanwhile polypropylene is common as stackable furniture and long underwear. While America’s addiction to oil has been widely recognized, the eﬀects of fossil fuel extraction and processing on our homeland, and on public health, are often hidden and localized. American consumers beneﬁt from the myriad of products made possible by petrochemistry, while pollution and waste often aﬀect only the poorest communities.
- Richard Misrach and Kate Orff, Petrochemical America; New York: Aperture, 2012, p 128-129.