Formosa’s Texas plant fined $122,000 for plastic pellet spill
A Texas plastic manufacturer was slapped this week with a fine of more than $120,000 after spilling thousands tiny plastic pellets into a creek and bay on the Gulf Coast.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found in a 2016 investigation that Formosa Plastics spilled plastic pellets into the Cox Creek and Lavaca Bay near the company’s 2,500 acre complex in Point Comfort, about halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi. The commission this week approved the final penalty for Taiwanese company, which has its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey.
The Commission on Environmental Quality does not have an estimate for how many pellets were released, but it did require Formosa to collect and properly dispose of about 112,000 pounds of debris and plastic pellets from Lavaca Bay and about 327,000 pounds from Cox Creek.
The plastic pellets, called resins, are about the size of lentils. They can be ingested by fish and turtles, posing a threat to wildlife and the fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast.
The fine came the same week that Formosa and dozens of other petrochemical companies with Gulf Coast operations committed to a $1 billion effort to end plastic waste. As environmentalists raise alarms about plastic waste choking the oceans and contaminating soil, pressure is building on chemical and plastic makers to address the issue.
As a result, plastic waste has become a growing concern for the energy industry, which has invested billions of dollars into building petrochemical plants in Texas and elsewhere to takes advantage of cheap supplies of ethane produced along with natural gas and oil in shale formations. Many of these plants make the chemicals and plastic pellets that ultimately are manufactured into consumer goods.
Activists shareholders last week filed resolutions with Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66 of Houston, Chevron and DowDupont demanding the petrochemical divisions of the companies disclose to shareholders when plastic pellet spills occur and what they were doing to prevent spills.
San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, a local chapter of the New York environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance, argued the state fines were too low for a plant whose parent company’s 2017 net income was $1.59 billion.
“It’s a pittance. It’s less than a pittance,” said Diane Wilson, executive director of San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, about the state fines. The penalties for wastewater pollution need to be much higher for multinational corporations such as Formosa to take notice and change actions, Wilson said.
San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper is involved in a federal lawsuit against Formosa, alleging the company’s Point Comfort plant has violated the Clean Water Act by polluting nearby waterways with plastic pellets for nearly 25 years. Her group says it has collected 2,154 samples of plastic pellets and powders from along 20 miles from Cox Creek and Lavaca Bay. A hearing in the case will occur this spring, Wilson said.
Company officials said they have installed multiple screening and control systems to control pollution. As a result of the investigation, the state also required the company to install pellet recovery system to minimize future spills.
“We’re not contesting it — certainly we’ve taken a lot of steps for the past three years to address this, including new technology to prevent it from happening,” said Steve Rice, Formosa spokesman. Rice said the plant has 16 full-time contract employees whose main job is to clean up debris and pellets outside the plant.
The plant ships pellets to customers via rail. Sometimes when customers send those cars back, residual resins can spill out if the hatches of the cars aren’t properly sealed, Rice said.
The company has engaged customers in an initiative to prevent such spills and “teach them how to be as responsible as they can be, just as we’re trying to be as a responsible as we can be,” Rice said.