Don’t Spill the Nurdles! EPA Reaches Settlement with Two Plastic Manufacturers Over Pollution of the Los Angeles River and Permit Violations
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it reached an agreement with two Southern California plastic manufacturers over violations of the Clean Water Act. In 2015, Western States Packaging Inc. (Western States) and Direct Pack Inc. (Direct Pack) were cited for violations relating to their use of plastic pellets, known as “nurdles,” at their manufacturing facilities in Southern California. Nurdles are plastic beads about 1/5 of an inch in diameter that are used to make jars, bags and films.
During an inspection, EPA inspectors found nurdles spilled on paved surfaces throughout Western States’ facility without proper control measures in place and also determined that the facility was not operating with the proper stormwater permit. Western States was using nurdles to manufacture food-grade plastic bags at their Pacoima, CA facility. With respect to the Direct Pack facility, EPA inspectors found that it did not have the necessary containment devices in place to prevent nurdles from entering local waterways and was also cited for discharging industrial wastewater without the proper permit, incorrectly storing chemicals, as well as other violations. Direct Pack was using nurdles to manufacture plastic packaging products at their Sun Valley, CA facility.
Under the Clean Water Act, plastic manufacturers are required to obtain a stormwater permit from the state to discharge industrial stormwater to surface waters. The permit requires the installation of controls and use of best management practices to prevent or minimize the discharges of pollutants in runoff from their operations. Such discharges may contain pollutants such as plastic resin pellets, flakes, or powders.
The EPA issued these violations on the basis that the nurdles likely entered storm drains that discharge into the Los Angeles River. Environmentalists point out that nurdles contribute to plastic debris in the nation’s inland and coastal waters and pose a danger to birds, fish, and other wildlife that may ingest the nurdles. Moreover, plastic debris in the nation’s inland and coastal waters also absorb persistent toxic chemicals that can be harmful to human health and have been shown in certain studies to travel up the food chain. As a result, nurdle production is now on EPA’s radar in an effort to protect our nation’s environment and waterways.
Both companies involved have since corrected the violations and are now in compliance with EPA’s permitting regulations. Further, under EPA’s settlement with Western States, which is open to public comment until July 21, 2017, Western States will pay a $25,000 penalty. Under EPA’s settlement with Direct Pack, which is open to public comment until July 31, 2017, Direct Pack will pay a $42,900 penalty.
Western States and Direct Pack demonstrate and serve as a reminder to the regulated industry of the importance of proactive internal compliance audits –proper implementation of which may likely have prevented these violations in the first place.