Groups announce investigation into pellet pollution

CHARLESTON, SC — Environmental groups have sent a notice of intent to sue Frontier Logistics for ongoing plastic pollution from its packaging facility at Union Pier Terminal.

The 60-day notice submitted today by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and the Charleston Waterkeeper is a legal requirement before the filing of a Clean Water Act enforcement case.

The notice makes clear the July spill of plastic pellets into the Cooper River that littered shorelines for miles was not a one-time occurrence. Rather, the pollution appears to be ongoing.

“We have evidence that leads us to believe Frontier’s plastic pellets continue to spill into our harbor,” said Andrew Wunderley, the Charleston Waterkeeper. “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.”      

Despite identifying Frontier as the source of the July spill, DHEC has not taken any enforcement action against Frontier Logistics. Photographs of the facility obtained under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act show pellet accumulations on the pier, in storm drains, around broken metal covers over the river, and in other locations where they are easily blown or washed into the water. The pellets, which are about the size of fish eggs, are a danger to aquatic life.

“Coastal communities and environmental organizations have worked tirelessly for the past several years to address the problem of plastic polluting our waterways,” said Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League. “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.”

Among the FOIA documents gathered for this case, a DHEC report noted: “Plastic accumulation observed throughout the facility. Most of the facility is over water. Numerous openings throughout the facility were observed directly over water.”

The pellets – sometimes called “nurdles” – are sent to factories where they are melted and reshaped into common plastic products.

Frontier Logistics is the only Charleston area company packaging pellets on the water. It was the only company cited by DHEC as the polluter responsible for the July spill. And as documented in the notice letter, the largest densities of pellets have been found at sites closest to Frontier Logistics. Preliminary testing also confirms that the pellets recovered match the type of plastic handled by Frontier.

FOIA documents show that, since July, Frontier Logistics has taken some voluntary measures in an attempt to contain spilled pellets. 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. Dr. Jose has also identified numerous opportunities for the release of pellets from this open-air facility on the harbor.

A report from Dr. Jose was included as part of the 60-day notice to Frontier Logistics.

“We are proud to work with the Charleston Waterkeeper and the Coastal Conservation League to take this action to enforce our environmental laws when the state has not,” said SELC Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. 

Earlier this year in a similar case, a federal judge in Texas found a pellet manufacturer liable for polluting nearby waters with these same plastic pellets. 

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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