Chemical rail shipments highest in two years, U.S. invokes Defense Act against 3M, Bechtel extends contract to destroy chemical weapons

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Post-consumer PET may see higher demand following U.S. legislator initiatives for 25% minimum recycled content by 2025. However, experts warn Covid-19 may delay waste reduction efforts. Image courtesy of Willfried Wendel/Pixabay

Chemical rail shipments see in March highest volume in two years

Chemical rail shipments saw in March their highest volume since 2018 while the total for all categories saw a virus-related decline, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said on April 1, 2020.

“March was the best month for rail chemical carloads in two years,” AAR vice president John Gray said.

In March, ten out of 20 carload commodity categories saw on-year gains. These included chemicals, up 5,881 carloads or 4.6%, the AAR said.

The total volume moved showed a decline. “Rail traffic numbers confirm that the coronavirus is taking a toll on the economy,” Gray said. 

“U.S. carloads of autos and auto parts last week (ended March 28) were down 70% from the same week last year,” he added.

In March 2020, U.S. railroads originated 899,673 carloads, a 6% on-year decline. Containers and trailers fell 12% from 2019.

North American rail volume, including Canada and Mexico, during the week ended March 28 was 320,231 carloads, an 8.3% on-year drop. Intermodal units were down 14%.

U.S. invoked Defense Act against 3M over N-95 respirators

U.S. President Donald Trump called on April 2 for the Secretary of Homeland Security to use all authority under the Defense Production Act to secure N-95 respirators from 3M and prevent the company from exporting them. 

The company “will have a big price to pay,” Trump tweeted late on April 2. That same evening Fox News had published a report quoting Florida State officials saying 3M had shipped masks to foreign countries that outbid U.S. buyers.

Both the Canadian government as well as 3M warned the U.S. on April 3 against blocking exports from 3M plants in the United States. 

3M, which does not manufacture N95 respirators in Canada, said that there are “significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier.”

On April 6 3M published a statement saying that it had agreed with the Trump administration a plan under which it would import from China 166.5 million additional respirators over the next three months and be allowed to continue exports to Canada and Latin America.

"Beginning in January, 3M ramped up production of N95 respirators and doubled its global output to 1.1 billion per year, including the 35 million a month in the United States," the company said. 

"3M has already put into motion additional investments and actions that will enable it to double its capacity again to 2 billion globally within 12 months," it added.

3M headquarters is in Minneapolis, a 400-mile drive to the U.S.-Canada border along Interstate 29 highway.

U.S. government extends Bechtel contract for chemical weapons destruction

Bechtel said on April 1, 2020 that the U. S. government extended for three years a contract to destroy 2,600 tons of surplus chemical weapons stored at a U.S. Army depot in Colorado.

The objective is “to accelerate destruction” to meet commitments to Congress and an international treaty by the end of 2023, Bechtel added.

Workers at the Pueblo Chemical Agent Destruction plant will use detonation, chemical neutralization and bio-treatment structures yet to be built. The estimated construction cost is $1.2 billion.

Destruction of the chemical stockpile will occur by 2023 and then closure will follow. 

The plant has already destroyed “more than 1,300 U.S. tons of mustard agent, more than half of the stockpile in Colorado,” Bechtel said.

With the stockpile destruction in Colorado and plants in Kentucky, Alabama and Maryland, Bechtel will have eliminated 5,000 tons of chemical weapons at four of the nine U.S. depots, it said.

The United Nations website indicates that in 1925 it prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare, but the Geneva Protocol didn’t ban their development, production or stockpiling. International accords banning development and stockpiling only became effective in 1997.

Mustard gas is synthesized by treating sulfur dichloride, or alternatively disulfur dichloride, with ethylene, that in turn can be obtained from the cracking of ethane. 

S&P Global Platts to report recyclable PET prices in U.S.

S&P Global Platts started publishing three daily spot price assessments for U.S. post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle bales on April 1.

“U.S. legislators are considering proposals that mandate radical change to minimum recycled plastic content” which may increase the need for price assessments, said Ben Brooks, S&P Global’s head of plastics recycling price reporting.

Proposed U.S. legislation unveiled in February aims to create a nationwide deposit system where producers will fund recycling. That would remove the burden on taxpayers and states, S&P said. 

The Act proposes increases in minimum recycled content in food service-related products to 25% by 2025, with a three-year moratorium on construction of new resin plants.

Chemistry Industry Association of Canada asks to postpone non-essential new measures

The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) joined on March 25 about 60 Canadian guilds asking government to help protect jobs by postponing “non-essential new measures” amid Covid-19 challenges.

They asked to delay “any increases in taxes, non-essential new regulations, and unnecessary consultations” saying businesses and governments at all levels need to focus on the crisis.

While the CIAC didn’t make a direct reference to plastic bans, on Nov. 2019 it had shown concern about government initiatives at different levels to move with new plastic restrictions.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said in June 2019 that his administration was considering single-use plastic bans by 2021 as well as making plastic producers responsible for waste.

Separately, an analysis by Wood Mackenzie consultancy on April 2 indicated that concern about Covid-19 could slow efforts to reduce plastic waste.

The evolution of plastics circularity is “likely to slip down the pecking order,” it said.

BASF gets EPA approval for Alite27 herbicide for soybeans

BASF said on March 31 it received U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval for use of its Alite27 herbicide in areas of the north-center of the country to help fight weeds in soybean crops that are now resistant to glyphosate.

“Nearly 75% of growers nationwide are dealing with glyphosate-resistant weeds in their fields,” it said.

By Petrochemical Update