South Carolina conservation groups are threatening legal action against resin distributor Frontier Logistics LP over pellet pollution in the Charleston Harbor, following a similar lawsuit against a Texas plastics plant.
The Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups allege Frontier has been violating the Clean Water Act by not controlling pellet discharge from its operations at Charleston's busy port, which is experiencing a surge in plastic resin exports.
On Oct. 28, they issued formal notice of plans for a federal lawsuit, saying that state government investigations and their own monitoring found "widespread" problems.
Frontier, based in LaPorte, Texas, did not respond to a request for comment, but it offered a nuanced response in an August letter to state officials after a July resin spill on a nearby beach — an incident that first brought public concern and led South Carolina officials to look at Frontier's facility.
The company said many of the pellets in that particular beach spill were not materials that Frontier handled, but it also acknowledged some failures in its pellet containment and said it was making improvements and "remains committed" to zero pellet loss.
Frontier CEO George Cook noted in that Aug. 29 letter that at least four other businesses in the Charleston area do the same kind of work preparing pellets for export or distribution, suggesting they could also be sources of plastic nurdles in the environment.
State officials identified Frontier as a source in their report on the July spill.
"Frontier differs with the findings in the [state report] in general because the findings omit that the pellets reported on Sullivan's Island Beach also included many pellets that did not even resemble pellets handled by Frontier," Cooke said.
Environmental groups, though, said concerns extend beyond the July spill. They say evidence shows Frontier has not properly contained its resin, and they argue their legal approach echoes that of Texas groups that reached a $50 million settlement last month in their own federal lawsuit against a Formosa Plastics plant.
"It was our hope that [the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control] would hold Frontier accountable for this pollution, but that does not appear to be the case," said Laura Cantral, executive director of the Charleston-based South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, in a statement.
"Fortunately, the Clean Water Act allows private citizens to bring a lawsuit when a state agency like DHEC has not — or will not — protect our iconic waterways," she said.