Pellet picture from Conkle

Ronnie Hamrick, a member of the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, holds some plastic pellets he found along the shorelines of Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek the week of Feb. 11.

A few days after the state fined Formosa $121,875 for polluting surrounding waterways with plastic pellets, the company’s lawyers asked a federal district court judge to dismiss a Clean Water Act lawsuit residents brought against it.

Formosa’s attorneys said the residents’ claims are the same as the issue addressed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in January and are moot now.

Unsurprisingly, Amy Johnson, one of the attorneys who represents the residents, disagreed when interviewed by the Victoria Advocate on Friday.

“Our case covers hundreds, if not maybe thousands, of violations that TCEQ did not address,” Johnson said.

Steve Marwitz, a spokesperson for the company at its Point Comfort plant, declined to comment.

Attorneys are also sparring over whether certain documents should be sealed in the case. Johnson said Formosa has so far succeeded in convincing the judge to seal more than 700 pages of documents it says contain proprietary information, including any document that references Formosa’s net worth.

“What we would like to do is have a hearing before trial so that we can go over some very specific documents and explain to the court why the public has a right to see them,” Johnson said.

She said disclosing the documents is important so the public can understand the judge’s ruling about whether Formosa violated the Clean Water Act, whatever that ruling might be.

There is no word yet on when the judge will decide on either matter, but the case is scheduled to be tried in Victoria on March 25.

Jeremy Conkle, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, may testify then as an expert.

Conkle said he collected pellets in Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek, then took them to his lab, the Coastal Health and Water Quality Lab, and determined they had absorbed mercury. He doesn’t know if the mercury came from Alcoa’s discharge of mercury into Lavaca Bay decades ago, though.

“We haven’t gone out and done exhaustive studies yet, but it’s more likely than not that there’s going to be impacts to fisheries,” he said of the pellets’ proliferation.

Conkle said it’s unlikely that the amount of plastic pellets floating in the surrounding waterways came from the six days TCEQ fined Formosa for. He said he’s never seen anything like it.

“Everywhere you look, turn over some rocks or move some vegetation, and you’ll see this material,” he said.


The original version of this story was updated on Feb. 19, 2019 to correct the name of the department Conkle works in and the name of the person whose hands are shown in the lead photograph.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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