Expanded polystyrene resin maker Styropek USA is being sued by Pennsylvania environmental groups who accuse its factory in Monaca, Pa., of leaking plastic pellets into the Ohio River in violation of federal clean water laws.
PennEnvironment and Three Rivers Waterkeeper filed the suit Dec. 5 in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, saying that since September 2022 river patrols conducted by local groups have found "significant" numbers of EPS pellets in waterways discharged from the Styropek plant.
In a statement, the groups said they're open to a negotiated settlement and have been communicating with Styropek and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
But they allege that the discharges into the Ohio River and a tributary violate Styropek's permits under the Clean Water Act. The CWA allows private groups to file enforcement lawsuits.
"While we are open to discussing a negotiated resolution of Styropek's violations, we will not shy from our intent to hold the company fully accountable for its ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act," said Heather Hulton VanTassel, executive director of Three Rivers Waterkeeper.
The company said it hoped to continue talking with the environmental groups. The local groups had filed a formal notice of intent to sue in early October, a preliminary step required by the CWA when private groups seek to bring enforcement actions.
"Since the initial concerns were raised, and after receiving the notice of intent in October, we have continued to partner with the Pennsylvania DEP and expressed our desire to engage with the citizen groups pursuing this lawsuit," Styropek said.
"Despite the litigation, we will continue on the path of progress we have been on, working collaboratively with our regulators and emphasizing safe operations for our employees and the community," it said. "We will also continue to engage with the citizen groups and look forward to ongoing discussions."
The company said it takes the concerns seriously and began its own investigation when the waterkeeper organization raised the issue in late 2022.
"Since then we have invested millions of dollars to improve the Monaca facility and its operations consistent with our commitment to operating at the highest standards of environmental protection and in compliance with our permits," Styropek said.
The environmental groups said they began river patrols in 2022 to document pellet levels in local waters ahead of the opening of a large Shell Chemical polyethylene plant, also in Monaca, and said the Styropek facility wasn't initially a focus.
They said DEP and company investigations have corroborated their findings, although Styropek said its internal investigation did not corroborate the "continuous and high-volume" discharges the environmental groups allege. DEP issued a notice of violation in December 2022.
A similar lawsuit from private groups over pellet pollution from a Formosa Plastics Corp. USA plant in Point Comfort, Texas, resulted in the company paying a $50 million settlement in 2019, the largest private CWA settlement at the time.