An environmental group plans to sue three plastics companies in California for discharging excessive amounts of plastics and other pollutants into waterways, and a lawyer for the organization said action against more companies could be coming.
The Center for Biological Diversity announced June 7 that it has filed notices of intent to sue, a step required under the federal Clean Water Act, against Barnes Plastics Inc. in Gardena, Pelican Products Inc. in Torrance and a Rehrig Pacific Co. factory in Los Angeles.
A Barnes Plastics executive disputed the allegations and said the company follows the law. The other two firms did not respond to a request for comment.
The Tucson, Ariz.-based environmental group is basing its complaints on reviews of a public database of testing and reports that companies must file with the California State Water Resources Control Board.
Emily Jeffers, a lawyer for the center, said federal law allows private citizens, NGOs and others to bring Clean Water Act enforcement petitions to court.
"Plastics increasingly litter our oceans and coastlines, harming wildlife. There's a plastic pollution crisis, and it needs to be stopped at the source," Jeffers said. "We intend to hold these companies accountable."
The center accuses the companies of discharges from their stormwater runoff in excess of pollution control limits and with not having adequate management plans and pollution control technologies.
For Barnes, the CBD alleges in an 18-page complaint letter that the company discharges stormwater runoff with unacceptable levels of pH, solids and other materials.
The center also alleges on its "information and belief" that Barnes does not have proper containment systems nor does it meet employee training and other requirements specific to plastic pellet runoff.
It said the facility's water runoff goes into the Dominguez Channel, which feeds into the Los Angeles Harbor and the Pacific Ocean.
An executive with Barnes, a custom injection molder with 18 presses, disputed the allegations.
"I have basically all my records and all my testing," said Scott Piepmeyer, vice president and facility manager. "I'm inspected twice a year. ... I'm saying it's not true.
"We are fully certified and clean," he added.
Piepmeyer said the company collects water samples from its runoff collection points after any significant rain and sends them for testing, as the law requires, and it has grates installed on those runoff areas to catch very small pieces of plastic, as required.
The CBD complaint also alleges that Barnes did not collect enough water samples.
The environmental group makes similar claims against the other firms, plus some different allegations. For Pelican and Rehrig, for example, it said the companies discharged zinc in excess of pollution limits.
The CBD letters to the companies say the group intends to file a complaint in federal court in 60 days but is willing to meet to discuss remedies.
Jeffers said her group has taken similar action against one other plastics company but decided on this broader legal campaign after looking for strategies to complement various consumer campaigns to reduce plastics in the environment and plastics use in general.
"We want to ensure that plastics manufacturers are not exempt from making sure their products don't pollute," she said.
U.S. EPA and state regulators have brought similar lawsuits against plastics companies in California over pellet runoff. Jeffers said her group is considering more of its own actions against plastics companies in the state.
"These [three companies] are certainly ones that we believe are violating stormwater permits," she said. "We believe there are others too. We are looking at other companies."