Frontier Logistics agrees to $1.2 million settlement in pellet-pollution lawsuit

Small plastic pellets, known as nurdles, are the basis for many manufacturing operations but were showing up along beaches and in marshes throughout Charleston harbor. (© Charleston Waterkeeper)

Frontier Logistics has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged the company spilled plastic pellets from its former facility at Union Pier in downtown Charleston.

The settlement was filed publicly and, once approved by the court, ends the federal lawsuit from the Charleston Waterkeeper and the Coastal Conservation League. The organizations were represented by SELC.

Frontier, now in a new facility in North Charleston, also agreed to allow an independent auditor, accompanied by a nurdle-pollution expert, to visit its new facility to make recommendations on preventing the plastic pellets from getting into the environment. Frontier has agreed to follow those recommendations.

“The ultimate goals of this lawsuit were to stop plastic pellets from polluting Charleston waterways and to compensate for the harm caused by that kind of plastic pollution,” said Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. “We’re pleased to say that has been accomplished. The magnitude of this settlement reflects the importance of this case.”

The million-dollar settlement will be paid in four annual installments, and will go into a fund to be used for projects to improve water quality in the Charleston Harbor watershed.

“More and more of these nurdle exporters want to set up shop on the coast, but industry growth cannot come at the expense of our waterways,” said Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League. “We hope the precautions being put in place at Frontier as a result of this lawsuit will serve as an example for the rest of the industry.”

In July, 2019, beachcombers began finding plastic pellets washed ashore in communities and marshes around the Charleston Harbor. After the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control closed its case without assigning responsibility, SELC filed a lawsuit.

At that time, Frontier operated a pellet-packaging facility directly over the water at Union Pier.

The lawsuit settled today was based in part on the work of Charleston Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderley. He and his staff collected tens of thousands of pellets from numerous locations to document the extent of the pollution.

“The Charleston Harbor is an amazing natural resource for all of us, and it shouldn’t be polluted without consequence,” Wunderley said. “We’re pleased Frontier has committed resources to both preventing pollution, and to funding future work that will improve the Charleston Harbor.”

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