In a Dec. 18 letter, TCEQ investigators told Dow they referred the Seadrift plant, which makes polypropylene and polyethylene, to the agency's enforcement division.
"Due to the apparent seriousness of the alleged violation, formal enforcement action has been initiated, and additional violations may be cited upon further review," TCEQ wrote. "We encourage you to immediately begin taking actions to address the outstanding alleged violation."
The agency told Dow that in two separate investigations at Seadrift in August and November, its staff observed plastic resin pellets, or nurdles, leaking from the facility into the Victoria Barge Canal.
After the second visit, on Nov. 5, it told plant officials that it was referring the matter to the agency's enforcement unit.
In copies of state reports provided to Plastics News, TCEQ noted that Dow said it had upgraded equipment and made other improvements after the August inspection.
In a statement, Dow said it took immediate action to eliminate the pellet leakage after the August inspection.
The company did not comment directly on the enforcement action, but spokeswoman Ashley Mendoza said a "small amount of plastic pellets" were observed being discharged in August from the plant, which formerly was owned by Union Carbide Corp. and is referred as UCC in state documents.
"UCC took immediate action to eliminate the discharge of floating pellets through its outfall and divert water back to the treatment system as necessary," she said.
In the November inspection, she said no pellets were discharged during normal operations but appeared to have gotten out of the facility following a very heavy rainstorm.
"There was indication that a small amount may have been discharged during a significant, exceptional rain event shortly prior to the visit, however, there were no pellets being discharged at the time of the visit," Mendoza said. "The site has since made improvements to further develop its screening system to accommodate exceptionally large amounts of rainfall, and it is continuing to study and implement additional technologies."
TCEQ, however, said in its November inspection report that "the facility had not ceased the discharge of floating solids [plastic pellets]" and noted that Dow staff pointed to recent heavy rains.
Mendoza said preventing pellets from getting into the environment is a priority for Dow and pointed to its work with the industry's voluntary Operation Clean Sweep program for both its factories and its suppliers.
"We are embedding zero pellet loss principles in manufacturing and logistics projects through our commitment to the standards of Operation Clean Sweep," Mendoza said. "Seadrift's site leadership is developing a long-term plan to ensure zero pellets are released from the site."
It's not clear yet what action, if any, would come from the TCEQ enforcement referral.
In the earlier Formosa case, TCEQ fined that company $121,000 for pellet leakage at Point Comfort.
But that was before the federal court case went to trial in nearby Victoria, Texas, and conservationists presented the court with boxes showing several years of pellet spills they collected.
The judge issued a strongly worded ruling in favor of local conservation groups and the parties reached the $50 million settlement, which the plaintiffs said is the largest monetary award in a citizen lawsuit under the Clean Water Act.
The new TCEQ investigation of the Dow Seadrift plant was first reported in late January by the Victoria Advocate newspaper in Texas.