Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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O-Cel-O, Tonawanda, New York

O-Cel-O, from John Pfhal’s Smoke series, is located in Tonawanda, New York, and is currently owned by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), a global enterprise technology company. O-Cel-O, which is now the largest manufacturer of scrub sponges in the world, was originally started as an independent business by Gerard E. Murray and a few other individuals in 1948. A few years later, in 1952, the factory was sold to General Mills, which in turn sold it to 3M in 1988.

In 1989, O-Cel-O was fined over $150,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency for the emission of hazardous substances. Carbon disulfide, which is released during the process used to make sponges, is one of the many harmful chemicals emitted by O-Cel-O. In 1996, O-Cel-O deposited 844,700 lbs of harmful chemicals, was cited as the greatest polluter in the Buffalo area, and was included among the top eight greatest polluters in the state of New York by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

During the late 1990s, however, O-Cel-O spent millions of dollars in order to reduce its harmful emissions by 24 percent. The plant installed a thermal oxidizer, which is a system that converts air toxins and volatile organic compounds into oxygen and water vapor. Since 1999, O-Cel-O’s air emissions have been under state limits. In 2004 O-Cel-O invested in a 28 million dollar upgrade, including the installation of more pollution reducing equipment.

Selected Bibliography

Buckley, Eileen. “Environmentalists Teach Residents How to Monitor Air.” The Buffalo News. 20 January 2004. Weblink.

“Our Founder, Gerard E. ’Red’ Murray, 1916–2005.” U.C. Coatings Corp. 2002. Weblink.

“O-Cel-O.” 3M. 2005. Weblink.

O-Cel-O, Tonawanda, New York Pictures in the Gallery