Two years after signing a landmark $50 million federal court settlement agreeing to end unauthorized pellet discharges from a large Texas Gulf Coast resin plant, Formosa Plastics has racked up more than $2.2 million in new penalties from ongoing leaks.
Court monitoring of the settlement has found at least 110 detectable instances of microplastics being discharged from Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas, plant since March, in violation of the Clean Water Act, according to an environmental group that sued the company over the issue.
The new discharges have been detected by an expensive monitoring system, known as the wastewater sampling mechanism (WSM), which was designed and built as part of the federal court decree. The WSM started operating in early 2021.
In a statement, the environmental group, the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, said the new leaks detected by the WSM reinforce evidence it presented in the 2019 federal trial.
"The District Court found that Formosa was a 'serial offender' of the Clean Water Act," said Amy Johnson, an attorney for the group. "The WSM shows just how right the judge was. Formosa is repeatedly discharging plastics into Lavaca Bay."
Formosa said it's put in a lot of work to try to end pellet leakage at its plant but has encountered challenges.
"While we have made significant progress toward our commitment to zero discharge of pellets, powders and flakes, we incurred challenges that resulted in visible plastics being captured by the wastewater sampling mechanism," the company said.
It said payments have been made to a fund, the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust, set up by the court decree to disperse the $50 million and any additional penalties.
Thus far, the money has gone to things like local environmental restoration and parks, funding for citizen efforts to monitor plastic pollution and programs to support the local fishing industry, which has been hurt by industrial pollution.
Future discharges will get more expensive for the company. The court settlement, which is still being monitored by a federal judge at the U.S. District Court in Houston, requires Formosa to pay $20,000 for every violation detected in 2021. That increases to $25,000 per violation in 2022.