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Uniting to fight COVID-19

By Dorothy Lozowski |

The coronavirus pandemic has very quickly changed our lives in ways we could not have imagined even a few short months ago. Our vocabulary reflects some of these changes, with new terms that have become commonplace, like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.” These are unprecedented times, and the world is united in fighting a common, unseen enemy, the novel coronavirus. In this battle, we arm ourselves with soap, disinfectants and personal protective equipment (PPE). The widespread need for these materials in quantities never anticipated has caused worldwide shortages and desperate calls for help in supplying them. The chemical process industries (CPI), large and small, and the vendors that supply them are answering the calls.


Donations and production shifts

The CPI provide numerous materials needed for the COVID-19 response, including ingredients for cleaners, disinfectants and hand sanitizers, plastics used in medical equipment and materials used to make PPE. To meet the demands, many companies are cooperating with each other, and in some cases, donating raw materials to each other to produce end products. Companies are also shifting their production to include products they don’t normally make.

Dow, for example, which normally does not produce hand sanitizer, began producing it at five of its sites, located in the U.S. (Michigan and West Virginia), Belgium, Brazil and Germany. The majority of the hand sanitizer produced is intended as donations to health systems and government agencies, and it will also be distributed to Dow production sites to help protect its own employees.

Huntsman started making hand sanitizer at its manufacturing site in Alabama, for distribution to health care facilities in the U.S. Since Huntsman does not make the needed isopropanol, LyondellBasell agreed to donate the alcohol to produce the first shipment. Ineos, Henkel, Arkema and numerous distilleries are among a host of companies that are also shifting production to meet hand-sanitizer and other disinfectant needs.

Providing material for PPE is another area seeing much activity in the CPI. For example, ExxonMobil is working with the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI) to facilitate the development and expedite third-party production of innovative safety equipment that can be sterilized and worn multiple times. A new industrial-style mask is being fast-tracked for production. Additional companies that are working on the response to PPE needs include Solvay, Siemens, Eastman Chemical and many others.


Economic impact

Last month, The American Chemistry Council (www.americanchemistry.com) released a brief update to its biannual economic report, Chemical Industry Situation and Outlook,to address the potential economic impact of the pandemic on the CPI. Sales in key end-use markets, such as automotive and building and construction are expected to fall sharply in 2020, but improve in 2021. The strong demand for chemical products needed for the COVID-19 response however, is expected to partially offset the weakness in U.S. chemical production. For much more on the CPI and COVID-19, as well as additional resources, see the special section on our website.* ■

Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director

* www.chemengonline.com/covid-19

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