Petrochemical America: From Cancer Alley to Toxic Valley

Petrochemical America

9/27/2017 - 10/7/2017


Scroll to the bottom for a schedule of film screenings!

Will Pittsburgh forget the lessons learned from its toxic past in writing the next chapter for its future?

Several organizations concerned about the region’s air quality, environment and future have come together to present a multimedia exhibition that draws on the parallels of the environmental degradation of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” and that region’s reputation for having one of the highest rates of cancer in the country and petrochemical development in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Allegheny County ranks third worst out of all 3200 counties nationally for cancer risk due to point source pollution. What happens when a new health-impacting industry adds to this heavy burden?


This exhibition draws on the book “Petrochemical America” by Richard Misrach and Kate Orff (New York: Aperture, 2012) and Petrochemical America: Project Room, an exhibition held at Aperture Foundation in New York City in 2012. The exhibit pairs the drawings of landscape architect Kate Orff of SCAPE Studio with images from the Photographers of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, audio recorded by Public Herald and a selection of documentary films to relate a unique narrative of the people who live in the midst of this polluting industry. CREATE Lab has created an interactive visualization of the EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment Toxic Release Inventory for public exploration. The visualization will make tangible the breadth and scale of toxic chemicals and will highlight known carcinogens from industrial sources in the U.S.

This show is curated by Sophie Riedel in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, Clean Air Council, Beaver County Marcellus Shale Awareness Committee and PennFuture through the Air Quality Collaborative.

“I was deeply moved by the haunting photographs of the Louisiana bayou, the Ecological Atlas created by Kate Orff and the profound story they weave,” says Sophie Riedel, curator. “Our goal is to bring their analysis of this stretch of the Mississippi River into conversation with the development of possibly four to five cracker plants in the Ohio River Valley.”

The two-week exhibit will open in downtown Pittsburgh’s SPACE gallery, Sept. 27-Oct. 7, and move to the Beaver Station Cultural & Event Center for a second showing Oct. 16-20. Three events are planned in Pittsburgh and one is planned in Beaver, Pa.

September 27 – 5:00 to 8:00 pm
Opening Reception with Wilma Subra

October 4 – 3:30 to 6:00 pm
Regional Visioning Session. Elected officials and the public are invited to a conversation around a healthier economic future.

October 7 – 5:30 – 8:00 pm
Closing Reception with Gena Wirth of SCAPE Studio
Bus Tour of the Petrochemical Plant in Potter Township

October 16
Opening Cocktail Reception with Sandra Steingraber
Beaver Station Cultural & Events Center

Petrochemical America hopes to engage citizens of SWPA and ignite a deeper conversation and actions around our right to clean air and water in Pennsylvania. This show is curated by Sophie Riedel in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, Clean Air Council, Beaver County Marcellus Shale Awareness Committee and PennFuture through the Air Quality Collaborative.


These documentary films represent the life cycle of the petrochemical industry – from fracking, pipelines and plastics, to pollution, environmental justice and public health. They tell the stories of citizens and communities across the U.S. and Canada as our region confronts plans for a massive petrochemical industry build-out.

The following films are screened on a rotation throughout the event, with the exception of a Special Screening for each film noted below:


Pittsburgh Premiere

Directors: Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman

Distributor: Bullfrog Films (2017)

Length: 52 minutes

Special Screening: Thursday, September 28, 5pm



Directors: Slawomir Grünberg

Distributor: Filmmakers Library (2002)

Length: 53 minutes

Special ScreeningSaturday, September 30, 5pm



Directed by: Chanda Chevannes

Distributed by: First Run Features (2010)

Length: 55 minutes

Special Screening: Sunday, October 1, 4pm



Director: Patrick McGuire

Distributor: Vice (2013)

Length: 31 minutes

Special Screening: Thursday, October 5, 5pm



Director: Ian Connacher

Distributor: Bullfrog Films (2008)

Length: 53 minutes

Special Screening: Friday, October 6, 5pm