Lubricant for masonry in a large number of homes has been found in Pennsylvania, prompting concern that the state is on track to reach its lowest production levels in years.
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been trying to keep up production at its existing mills, which are now producing around 100 million gallons per day (milligrams per liter) of the lubricant.
The amount of oil needed to keep the mills going has been reduced by a third, to 1.3 million gallons, to keep them running.
But in recent weeks, the company that owns the mills reported that production has dropped by as much as 30 percent.
“I’ve been in this business 30 years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” said Bob Cipriani, a mill operator and former DEP employee.
“It’s a massive, massive reduction.”
Cipriian told NBC News that it’s difficult to tell exactly what has happened to the production, as he has been unable to obtain any data from the mills themselves.
“I’ve never heard anything like this before,” he said.
The production of graphite is vital for masons, who are responsible for making the concrete for the exterior of the house.
The industry is also critical to the state’s economy, as it makes up 10 percent of the state budget.
In recent years, Pennsylvania has seen a dramatic decline in its manufacturing sector.
The state has experienced a sharp drop in the number of jobs in the past two years, but the state still has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country.
In a statement released on Monday, DEP Commissioner Robert Fink said that it is important to be clear about the situation.
“We have been aware of reports of low production levels for several months,” Fink wrote.
“DEP has a long history of protecting the environment, and we have had zero reports of the industry being affected by this change.
As we have been working to address this situation, we have also been mindful of the impact on local communities.”
MasonGraphite, the mill operator that owns MasonGraphite LLC, has said it will start making graphite oil again in February, and has told the DEP that the mill will continue to supply the state with oil until it is no longer required to do so.
But the company is facing mounting pressure to return production to pre-production levels, particularly in the face of a shortage of other essential products like pesticides and fertilizer.
“This is a critical moment for the industry,” said Michael Siegel, director of the Center for Sustainable Economies at the Pennsylvania State University.
“The fact that we have a reduction in the availability of lubricants in the mill and in the mills’ production is a major concern, as well as the impact of this on the ability of local communities to continue to have their own jobs.”
The industry is the backbone of our economy and we need to continue this important role,” Siegel added.
In February, DEPA announced a two-year supply freeze that will prevent the mills from producing more than 50 million gallons of oil per day.
But a DEP official said that there are no plans to immediately end production.