Big Oil Evaded Regulation And Plastic Pellets Kept Spilling


Plastic pellets have been spilling into oceans and rivers. The world over where birds and fish eat them. They are the building blocks of all plastic melts 350 of them. You get a yogurt cup 1000 gets you a water bottle. But an NPR and PBS frontline investigation found the oil and plastic industry has long known there an environmental problem. NPR's Laura Sullivan brings us this story about how the oil in plastic industry evaded regulation. Despite decades of spills. You probably haven't spent a lot of time standing on train tracks looking at your feet. We're looking at the edge of a highway outside of plastic manufacturer. If you did, there's a good chance you'll see them little plastic pellets. This is Kocsis Creek, and we're looking at fresh pellets. It has fallen out of the Terps. Ronnie hammering is standing on state Road 35 in Southeast Texas, rising four square miles. Behind him is the petrochemical plant, Formosa Plastics. And they're not just here. There over there. They're important Lakha. You're gonna find him down the road Hand looks not an anti plastic environmentalist. He's a former supervisor who worked to Formosa for 25 years, And while he worked there, he says he was told to cover up spills of classic pallets. I want you to put down a certain number. You know what I'm saying? They want to keep it love. So So you line so would you like That's my job. That's my bread and butter, so I got to do what they think. I got a family. What's striking about standing outside Formosa and finding pellets? 100 yards from the plant's edge is that last year for most agreed to pay $50 million to settle a lawsuit in which it agreed to zero discharge of pellets. And yet, here they are and down in the creek, where the plant drains thousands more. Ah federal judge called Formosa, a serial offender for most of says it's working to improve its containment systems. But Formosa is just one of thousands of companies that either make or use plastic pellets in the United States. The oil and plastic industry says it doesn't have a problem, Officials told me for most of it was simply a quote bad actor, while leading companies like Exxon and Chevron recently told shareholders that at their dozens of facilities worldwide Either lose, not a single pellet or just two sandwich bags full. And here's how they say they've done it. Thanks again for signing on the operation Clean Sweep Operation Clean Sweep is a voluntary program the industry came up with in 1991. Companies that joined watch videos and promised to keep pellets from spilling from plant truck ships and rail cars. There's no data required. No numbers, nothing public. The operation Clean sweep is truly making a difference. Together, we can achieve zero pellet flake and proud of us. The industry says it's been a success. Pellet containment is incredibly important to our members. Steve Russell was until recently the vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council, which jointly runs the program, Nobody wants plastic in the environment. And if it still happens, and if we're gonna assume it's an accidental release, then it will be reported and remediation steps could be taken. Formosa is an operation Clean sweep member. So I asked to former workers and Ronnie Hamrick about it. I have no idea what you're even talking about. I've never heard it. There's evidence the industry does, in fact, have a pellet problem. Recent spills on beaches in Louisiana in South Carolina and studies show pellets are contaminating oceans, killing birds and fish and carrying toxins through rivers. There's also evidence the industry has known about this problem all along. In 2005, the industry participated in a study of 10 pellet plants. It found pellets washed away in heavy rain at every single facility and called Operation Clean sweep. Inadequate. But even long before that, there's a memo buried inside thousands of documents left over from old industry lawsuits. It was written in March. 1991 Thean Mysteries Trade Association warns top executives from Exxon, Chevron, Dow DuPont and others. But the EPA have recently found pellets to be quote ubiquitous in the environment. Regulation and permits are likely coming, the memo says. Unless they act quickly, it may still be possible to institute voluntary programs to address the pellet issue, it says. Unless this occurs, it is likely EPA will act independently. Then, just four months later, we developed a program that was called Operation Clean Sweep. Lou Freeman was a vice president at the time for the trade association, then called the Society of the Plastics industry. I don't recall any discussions. But quantitatively measuring the success of the program. It was being measured really about who is participating that what the results were, so it was a voluntary program without any metrics. Yeah, I would like to think that they were also doing it because it was the right thing to do. But I'd also be naive if I didn't think that much of the motivation was was governed by, you know. Keeping the regulators off our back today. The EPA doesn't regulate pellets and in the almost 30 years since, the agency told NPR it has brought just 10 Clean Water Act enforcement cases against facilities accused of spilling pellets. How would anyone really know if pellets were leaking? If you head down to the Gulf of Mexico pellet manufacturers like Chevron Phillips say they're not. I can tell you that. It's not a problem here at Chevron Phillips, we have almost no Let's leaving our sights. Jim Bakker is the

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