To mark the launch of We Refuse to Die, billboards were recently installed at key sites of contestation across the Ohio River Valley, including Clairton, Pennsylvania, where residents are forced to breathe the most toxic air in Allegheny County, Washington County, Pennsylvania, the most fracked county in the state, and East Palestine, Ohio, where residents are dealing with the devastating effects of one of the worst chemical train disasters in US history.
Digital billboards also went up in downtown Pittsburgh, outside of the MetCoke World Summit, a coal, coking, and steel industry event on November 8-9th. The billboards call out summit sponsor US Steel, whose Clairton Coke Works facility is the largest manufacturer of coke (refined coal) in the country, and Norfolk Southern, the rail company responsible for the East Palestine train disaster.
In April, the Clairton Coke Works Plant was named Allegheny County’s number one source of toxic industrial air pollution, releasing over 1.1 million pounds of toxic pollutants into the air in 2021 – a leading reason for why Allegheny County is in the top 1% of all US counties for cancer-risk from toxic industrial air pollution. Facility emissions include chemicals and particulates linked to cancers, birth defects, reproductive problems, heart disease, and asthma.
More than 36,000 people live within three miles of the plant, and there are seven public schools within three miles of the facility. In October, the EPA rejected the facility’s air pollution permit, citing ongoing Clean Air Act violations and mandating greater oversight from the Allegheny County Health Department. The Clairton billboard underscores this reality, boldly announcing that Clairton residents will not be treated as collateral damage.
East Palestine, OH
People, pets, and wildlife living in and near East Palestine, Ohio continue to suffer the devastating effects of one of the worst chemical train disasters in U.S. history. On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in this small rural town, spilling 100,000 gallons of hazardous materials, and 115,000 gallons of cancer-causing vinyl chloride were vented and burned—creating a toxic cloud so large it could be seen from space.
In the aftermath, at least 43,000 animals died, businesses lie shuttered, and previously healthy residents now suffer from rashes, lesions, headaches, and bloody noses. The full impacts of this environmental and public health disaster are not yet known.
The billboards in East Palestine are less than two miles from the site of the derailment, serving as a prominent reminder that residents refuse to be sacrificed for corporate profits.
Washington County, PA
Washington County is the most fracked county in Pennsylvania, with fracking wells in the Marcellus Shale region disproportionately located in poor rural communities, exposing residents to unsafe levels of contaminants linked to cancer, asthma, impacts on birth outcomes, and other serious health problems.
The impact on children in particular is devastating. A new paper by the Yale School of Public Health showed that children living near Pennsylvania wells that use fracking to harvest natural gas are two to three times more likely to contract a form of childhood leukemia than their peers who live farther away.
This billboard draws attention to the impacts of fracking on children, featuring an image of children obscuring their faces behind protest signs reading “we refuse to die” and the following shocking statistic:
“Kids living near fracking wells are 2-3 times more likely on average to get childhood leukemia.”
Together, these billboards give visual voice to staggering statistics, spotlighting the systemic sacrifice of some communities for corporate profit. Their message is clear: residents refuse to be collateral damage in this crisis.