Environmental groups to sue company they blame for plastic pellet pollution

VIDEO: Environmental groups to sue company they blame for plastic pellet pollution

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Several environmental groups announced Monday morning that they will file a lawsuit against the company they are blaming for plastic pellets washed up on Sullivan’s Island this past summer.

The plastic pellets also known as nurdles are melted to create common plastic products like toys, plastic bags, bottles and more.

The Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and the Charleston Waterkeeper sent a 60-day notice to Frontier Logistics, a legal requirement before the filing of a Clean Water Act enforcement case.

The Vice President and general counsel for Frontier Logistics, Paul Heard, says they are being blamed for a problem without proof and that he hasn’t seen the notice. Heard says they were not cited but that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) notified them of an alleged violation.

The groups claim the plastic pollution on the beach is an ongoing issue and not just a one-time occurrence such as what happened in July.

Heard says the pellets from the spill in July did not come from their company and those were a different material.

The nonprofit working to protect Charleston’s waterways, Charleston Waterkeeper thinks differently.

“We have evidence that leads us to believe Frontier’s plastic pellets continue to spill into our harbor,” Andrew Wunderley, the Charleston Waterkeeper, said. “We find pellets everywhere we look, from Capers Island to Waterfront Park downtown. And, at the sites we sample week after week, we continue to find consistently high numbers of pellets. Frontier must be held accountable for polluting our harbor, beaches, and waterways with its plastic pellets, especially when we have no state or local safeguards protecting our waterways from plastic pellet pollution.”

Frontier says there are other companies that also transport the plastic pellets in the area.

In July, the state department of health sent Frontier Logistics a notice of an alleged violation and had a site visit.

Reports say health officials became concerned about nurdle accumulation at the facility and the company says they've made improvements.

The state health department alleges that Frontier Logistics violated the Pollution Control Act, according to a report.

The company is a supply chain management service that loads the pellets for export through the Port of Charleston, according to DHEC.

“Coastal communities and environmental organizations have worked tirelessly for the past several years to address the problem of plastic polluting our waterways,” Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, said. “To date, 18 municipalities and counties across our state have adopted strong, local policy solutions to reduce the amount of plastic that enters our waters and threatens the health of our marine and river ecosystems. We have the momentum. We must keep moving forward and not allow the insidious backsliding that will happen if we close our eyes to the threat caused by these plastic pellets.”

Heard says they aren’t trying to hide anything and that they don’t want to become the scapegoat for the industry.

They have a temporary facility located a few miles away from Waterfront Park were the plastic pellets have been found. They have been there nearly two years.

“A pellet source control expert, Dr. Aiza Jose, has reviewed existing documentation and has determined that the controls implemented by Frontier Logistics thus far appear insufficient to prevent ongoing spills,” a Southern Environmental Law Center spokesman said. “Dr. Jose has also identified numerous opportunities for the release of pellets from this open-air facility on the harbor.”

State Senator Sandy Senn wants new laws to hold companies accountable.

“I think we need to do more at enforcing significant packaging so this does not occur and maybe follow California’s law and enforce some type of shape of the pellet so we can identify the polluter,” Senn said.

DHEC says the July incident is closed.

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