Caroline MacGregor Published

W.Va. Chemical Valley Featured In Film Documentaries


West Virginia’s community of Institute is featured in two documentaries that examine environmental safety and accountability.

The mini-documentaries are part of the series “Films for Our Future” and are hosted by Our Future West Virginia and the North Carolina production company, Working Films.

Chemical Valley follows the community of Institute in Kanawha County and explores the conflict of an economy dependent on chemical plants.

Out of Air examines what happens when environmental resources are turned into a commodity and ultimately who benefits.

Kathy Ferguson, interim executive director of Our Future West Virginia, said the movies underscore how communities of color and lower wealth are disproportionately impacted by environmental injustices.

She said Chemical Valley highlights the conflict and struggles of economies that rely on jobs from plants that produce chemical emissions like ethylene oxide.

“It’s just a new chemical,” Ferguson said. “I like to refer to it as the chemical du jour that we’re having to suffer and struggle with, and how we can stop these things from happening.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Union Carbide and Specialty Products have emitted ethylene oxide at sites near Institute and South Charleston.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 National Air Toxics Assessment data revealed that six of 90 census tracts with the highest cancer risk from the chemical were in Kanawha County.

Ferguson said Out of Air explores what can happen in the future if toxic air pollution is not stopped by transitioning away from petrochemical industries and reducing the carbon footprint.

She said filmmaker Jessie B. Evans and his futuristic sci-fi short film captures the impact of past tragic incidents and the future of chemical emissions like ethylene oxide in the valley.

Both films will be screened outdoors on Thursday, Oct. 5 at Institute’s Shawnee Regional Park.

Chemical Valley will be shown again at Floralee Hark Cohen Cinema in Charleston on Oct. 10, 17 and 24.