Former Formosa worker finds plastic pellets in bay
Feb. 20, 2016 at 10:30 p.m.
Updated Feb. 21, 2016 at 6 a.m.
PORT LAVACA - Ronnie Hamrick dumped debris from a 17-ounce disposable cup onto a concrete slab at the marina off Main Street.
Plastic pellets the size and shape of cooked quinoa were nestled between sticks and clumps of dirt.
As a breeze picked up, pellets blew back into Lavaca Bay, where they were before Hamrick found them washed up on the shore of a local fishing spot known as Black Rock.
"You can't just pick one up at a time," Hamrick said, as he climbed over concrete rubble used as erosion control to point out more pellets. "There's too many of them."
When Hamrick found the pellets, he recognized them right away. He worked for Formosa Plastics' Point Comfort facility for 25 years, retiring from his shift supervisor position in 2005.
Hamrick is protesting the company's permit application to continue dumping wastewater into Lavaca Bay. He's doing so as a member of Texas Injured Workers, a group of current and former workers from petrochemical, gas and oil industries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
He's concerned about polyethylene pellets and PVC dust escaping the facility. The pellets can accumulate in fish that eat them. A fisherman or woman who then eats the fish is exposed to pollutants in the plastic.
"People don't care about this," he said. "When I worked out there, I got my $100,000 paycheck, and I didn't care either."
Last year, Congress banned the sell and distribution of products that contain microbeads because of the danger associated with small plastic bits entering into waterways.
Hamrick has expressed his concern to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The draft permit does not allow Formosa to discharge floating debris or suspended solids, according to the agency.
"The compliance history for Formosa does not indicate any violations for the types of incidents described in the comment," according to the agency's response.
In a letter filed in response to Hamrick's concerns, Formosa agreed that pellets discharged into Lavaca Bay would "indisputably be a permit violation, which must be reported to TCEQ within 24 hours."
But the company said a facility-wide routine cleaning program required personnel to sweep up all the process and loading areas where pellets and PVC dust tend to accumulate, which "unavoidably happens when billions of tiny polyethylene pellets are produced and are transferred from one materials handling unit to another."
Storm water structures, including permitted water outfalls, are routinely cleaned to remove pellets and debris, according to the company's response.
But that hasn't seemed to prevent Hamrick from finding the pellets washed up on shores around Lavaca Bay and behind the facility at Cox Creek.
"They're all over the place," Hamrick said. "They should have layers of screens to stop these pellets. And, apparently, their screens have holes in them."