Plastics Part 2

This article is a follow-up to last month, which was about our plastic crisis – how much oil goes into producing millions of tons of plastic per year, and that it persists 500 years in nature. This month our focus is on the harm caused by the production of that plastic from oil.

I attended a United Church of Christ Earth Summit Webinar last month which detailed problems in Point Comfort, Texas where a huge Formosa Plastics plant operates. The town of Point Comfort once had 1500 people and a robust fishing industry. Now, because of Formosa Plastics, the fishing industry has collapsed, the last elementary school has closed, and half the people have filed suit against the company and left. Whistle-blowers have reported on the plant’s activities, indicating they have been illegally discharging plastics into the environment for 27 years. They took over the community, buying up houses and land.

Formosa Plastics is family-run, and owned by the richest family in Taiwan. It also operates plants in Baton Rouge, LA, Vietnam, and in other countries, and is attempting to open one in St. James Parish, LA, In Texas, the plant produces plastic powder, pellets, and microplastics. The plant covers 2500 acres, owns another 40,000 acres, employs 3000 workers, and produces a trillion plastic pellets per day. Formosa is making $1 billion per year from that factory alone.

Fishermen were seriously affected in the oyster, shrimp, and fishing industries. At one time, Matagorda Bay was the largest shrimp exporter in the US. Now all the shrimp houses have closed and been bulldozed. The factory needs to be sited on water because it requires water and discharges waste into the bay, which the company denies. Reports say that 9 million gallons of toxic waste are discharged per day into the Bay. Samples were collected for 2.5 years from water, fields, and ditches in the area which showed plastics present. In the clean-up of a
local creek, plastics were dug up 3 feet below the bottom. A “citizens complaint” suit was won by area fishermen and residents, and the federal judge stated that Formosa is a serial polluter.

There have been health consequences also. High rates of stomach problems, headaches, and cancers are present in people who live nearby.
A South Vietnam journalist, Nancy Bui, reported on Formosa Plastics’ activities in Vietnam. There cyanide, mercury, chlorine, other heavy metals, and plastics discharges killed fish and destroyed 200 kilometers of coastline in 2016. One diver died, and hundreds of people were hospitalized with food poisoning. No fishing was allowed for two years. It was the most serious environmental disaster in Vietnam. The government helped keep the damage secret. People who complained were beaten and threatened, and some were imprisoned for 10 years and are still in prison. The company offered to pay some money in compensation for damages, but the money was paid to Vietnam’s dictatorship, not to victims. Later, 7874 victims filed a lawsuit in 2019 in Taiwan. I believe that lawsuit is still pending.

What can we do? We can sign a petition on “Rise St. James” website asking the White House to shut down Formosa in Texas. We can refuse to buy clothing made with plastic fiber, which is made from the plastics these plants produce. We can stand up for the poorer, working people
who are burdened by most of the pollution and resulting poor health.

Sandy McKitrick, Climate Care Team