VICTORIA, Texas— A federal judge in Texas on Thursday found Formosa Plastics liable for polluting Texas waterways with billions of plastic pellets from its plant in Point Comfort. The Taiwanese company is currently seeking permits to build an even larger plastic-making plant along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, La., a project strongly opposed by local residents and national conservation groups.
Former shrimper Diane Wilson from Texas and the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper sued Formosa after extensively documenting the plastic pellets and powders the company discharged for years into Cox Creek, Lavaca Bay and other nearby waterways. The trial now moves into the remedy and penalty phase, with Formosa facing fines of up to $184 million.
Rise St. James, Healthy Gulf, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups fighting Formosa’s St. James Parish project attended the opening of the trial in March and saw the plastic pollution that still permeates the waters around Formosa’s Point Comfort, Texas plant. They fear Formosa will pollute the Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico, and region around St. James Parish with plastic and other toxic air and water pollutants.
“Formosa Plastics needs to be held accountable for polluting Texas, not invited to the do the same thing in our community,” said Sharon Lavigne, director of Rise St. James. “We’re already suffering from too much industrial pollution, my kids and grandkids are suffering, and now they want to put more on us. We can’t let that happen.”
St. James Parish approved the Formosa project in December, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will hold a July 9 hearing on the project’s air-pollution permit and will later consider its wastewater permit. The proposed plant would discharge plastic waste and toxic pollutants such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the Mississippi River and surrounding waterways.
“This ruling is a warning about the danger plastic production poses to our communities and oceans and the lengths to which these companies will go to avoid responsibility for their pollution. What Formosa Plastics did to Texas, it will also do to Louisiana if we don’t stop it,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center. “The Texas court concluded that Formosa is a ‘serial offender’ with ‘extensive, historical and repetitive’ releases of plastic from its facility that it failed to report and that the state has been unable to bring under control. That’s a chilling prospect for any community asked to welcome the next Formosa plastics facility and anyone concerned about the ocean plastic pollution crisis.”
The Center and other groups oppose the fossil fuel industry’s plans to increase U.S. plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade. Formosa and other petrochemical companies are turning the oversupply of fracked natural gas in the United States into plastic for single-use plastic packaging and other throwaway consumer products.
In Louisiana opponents of the Formosa project decry its location adjacent to a low-income, predominantly African-American community that has suffered severe health effects from decades of exposure to industrial pollutants. St. James, St. John, and St. Charles parishes — known as Cancer Alley or Death Alley — have some of the highest levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the air and water of any area in the United States.
“This decision is yet another black eye for a company that has absolutely no regard for people and the environment,” said Kendall Dix, campaign organizer for Healthy Gulf. “The state of Louisiana is currently considering Formosa’s application for a massive chemical complex that would make it possibly the most carcinogenic polluter in the state. Louisiana is already internationally famous for its poor public health and environmental racism, and it’s time to start imagining a future where we’re not a dumping ground for the rest of the world.”