Last Tuesday, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, along with Center for Biological Diversity and more than 270 community and conservation organizations (including 99 U.S. Waterkeepers), filed a legal petition that demands the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopt strict new water-pollution limits for industrial plants that create plastic. Plastic plants discharged 128 million pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways last year, their operators reported to the EPA―including 77,859 pounds of the most toxic pollutants.

The petition calls for a total ban on the discharge of plastic pollution and detectable levels of the most dangerous toxic pollutants, including dioxin and benzene. As the fossil fuel industry increases plastic production and builds dozens of new facilities around the country, the petition says updated regulations are needed to protect waterways and public health. The outdated regulations from the 1980s and early 1990s fail to consider new pollutant detection and treatment technologies that can reduce the harms of ocean plastic pollution and toxic pollutant discharge from plastic manufacture. The petition calls for EPA to take four specific actions under the Clean Water Act:

  1. Prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets and other plastic materials in stormwater and wastewater;

  2. Update Effluent Limitations Guidelines for new facilities to eliminate the discharge of toxic priority pollutants;

  3. For all facilities, put into effect Effluent Limitations Guidelines for pollutants of concern not currently regulated; and

  4. Update current Effluent Limitations Guidelines for all facilities to reflect advances in monitoring and treatment technologies since the last revisions decades ago.

An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year, and it’s expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050. Environmental pollutants adhere to plastic as it travels through the ocean. If ingested, those contaminated plastics can potentially sicken marine life—and, ultimately, humans who eat contaminated seafood. Plastics can also choke or entangle marine life, including sea turtles and whales.

We want to thank Waterkeeper Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity for putting this legal petition together. It’s time for EPA to fulfill its mission by protecting public health and the environment from pervasive waste and toxic pollutants. Granting this petition would be a powerful first step in the right direction.

Link to Petition