The New Orleans City Council is considering a resolution opposing a massive Taiwanese plastics facility in St. James Parish that could release the same type of tiny pellets that blanketed New Orleans riverbanks last summer. The resolution, slated for consideration on Thursday , won’t have much impact on the proposed $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics plant slated for an area near the Sunshine Bridge, more than 45 miles upriver, but it could express New Orleans’ “value systems” and bring more attention to river pollution, said Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. “I don’t think people in New Orleans really and truly understand how interconnected we are via the Mississippi River and our waterways,” she said, noting that plastic pollution can harm water quality, fisheries and the beauty of a city that depends on tourism.nola.com
The resolution would ask Formosa to reduce “toxic emissions and (take) stronger steps to clean up current contamination”. The clean up refers to the CMA CGM Bianca, a cargo ship that spilled around 743 million small plastic pellets, nurdles, in the River near Napoleon Avenue. This was August second and no clean up orders have been issued by the Coast Guard or other federal agencies. The Coat Guard says the spill does not fit under current guidelines as it is not toxic matter.
The initial cleanup response fell to small groups of loosely organized and poorly-equipped volunteers. “It really is unconscionable that it was volunteers with five-gallon buckets and brooms cleaning this up,” Palmer said. “We’re sitting here talking about expanding an industry in which our state leaders have failed us. The response from the state and the industry is ‘it’s not our responsibility.’”
Formosa of course says they will adhere to all requests.
Formosa said its facility was approved by state and local regulators and will be operated in a safe manner. “The project underwent a rigorous environmental and operating permitting process and will also comply with multiple laws, regulations and permits designed to protect public health,” Formosa spokeswoman Janile Parks said. The company urged the New Orleans City Council to reject the resolution. “Groups opposed to (the Formosa) project in St. James Parish are attempting to have the New Orleans City Council pass a resolution in opposition to the project since their efforts to have the St. James Parish Council pass a similar resolution have been unsuccessful,” Parks said. “In fact, the (parish) council and the planning commission in St. James Parish previously and unanimously approved the project and its location, which is in an area designated for industrial use. We urge the New Orleans council to carefully consider the facts and deny any resolution opposing (Formosa’s) project in St. James.”
In 2019 Formosa paid a $50 million find for nurdles. Two members of the Bucket Brigade were taken to court for terrorism when they put a box of nurdles on a chemical industry lobbyist’s door step. Charges were later dropped.
Louisiana environmental activists have warned that the Formosa facility in St. James will bring more air pollution to the region and add more plastic waste to the already plastic-saturated waters of the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. An LSU study found that the Gulf has one of the highest concentrations of plastic waste in the world. The likely source of much of the plastic is the Mississippi, which acts as a giant collector of plastic and other waste that eventually drains into the Gulf. Nurdles and plastic fragments are often mistaken for food by fish and other wildlife. Plastic can cause digestive blockages and internal injuries, and it often carries a variety of pesticides and other pollutants that animals absorb into their systems. “That moves up the food chain and can end up on our plate,” said Michael Esealuka, an organizer with Healthy Gulf.
The City Council has received support from some of the restaurateurs in the area.
The New Orleans council resolution has received support from several New Orleans restaurant and hospitality businesses, including Dickie Brennan and Company, which owns Brennan’s Steakhouse in the French Quarter. In a letter to council members, Brennan’s owners said the plastic from the Bianca spill “will exist in our waterways for thousands of years, obstructing the bellies of birds and fish. The petrochemical industry is a threat to our wildlife, our communities, our seafood industry, and our economy in Louisiana.” The Formosa plant is also opposed by environmental groups in St. James, where there are fears that the facility will increase air pollution in an area with an already high concentration of petrochemical facilities. “We are a sacrifice zone for the state,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James. “We are full. We cannot take anymore. All we get are sickness and death.” Lavigne said New Orleans leaders are speaking more strongly against Formosa than her parish’s leaders. “I want to thank the New Orleans council for trying to help St. James, because our public officials in St. James are not trying to revoke this decision – this death sentence for St. James,” she said.
And so the protests continue. The State is still in support so the protests are still long shots but they are gaining strength.
We encourage you to submit public comments at council.nola.gov. The resolution is on the agenda under Regular 37b.