Plastic pellets along Cox Creek lead to lawsuit

Plastic pellets along Cox Creek and Lavaca Bay prompted a lawsuit against Formosa Plastics by Crossroads environmental advocates. That trial ran a second day Tuesday.

A former Formosa Plastics employee remembers the day he realized the plastic pellets were escaping into adjacent bodies of water.

While boating with his children, Port Lavaca native Dale Jurasek, 56, noticed something in the bottom of his boat, the man testified in a Victoria federal courtroom Tuesday morning.

The plastic pellets he had often seen inside the plant were being tracked into the boat by the bottoms of his children's feet from the bay waters in which they swam.

"I was very disgusted," said Jurasek to the court on the second day of trial for a lawsuit filed by Crossroads environmental group San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper against Formosa Plastics.

That trial, which is being held in Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building in Victoria, will be decided by Senior U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt. Members of San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper are seeking up to $184 million in damages to be awarded to the federal government. Formosa attorneys have yet to call their witnesses, which also include a scientist.

Jurasek said he worked for Formosa for about 20 years as a boiler man, incinerator operator, wastewater operator and expansion worker.

Now, Jurasek said he is disabled with damage to his nervous system suffered from exposure to chemicals from Formosa's Point Comfort plant.

Before the man took the stand, an oceanographer who researches plastic pollution testified for the plaintiffs that the pellets could carry toxic mercury.

On Monday, Formosa attorney Steve Ravel, of Austin, countered, saying the pellets are not harmful to people and are chemically inert.

Each day, the plant produces about 1 trillion such pellets, but the amount released daily is a key point of contention between both sides.

Ravel also pointed out during cross examination that the concentration of mercury found in pellets by Jeremy Conkle, an oceanographer at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, was tiny compared to soils in an Alcoa Superfund site that include parts of Lavaca Bay.

Also under dispute is whether Formosa Plastics has violated a permit granted and monitored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. That permit allows the release of pellets in only "trace amounts."

On the stand, Conkle told the court that plastic pellets and powders, which can be easily found in nearby Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek, were at times so available they resembled the ring of a dirty bathtub.

"It was astonishing to see the amount of plastic there," he said, adding, "There were pellets the entire way ... on both sides."

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Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached or 361-580-6515.

Jon works in the Victoria Advocate newsroom, editing and working with a team of journalists. He also occasionally writes.