White House, U.S. EPA Announce New Plans to Address Plastic Pollution

Today, the White House announced a new Executive Order to Revitalize Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All, which includes “new steps to combat plastic pollution in communities.” According to the Fact Sheet, the new steps include the following:

  • A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft National Strategy on Preventing Plastic Pollution, intended to “combat the disparate impacts on communities affected by plastic from production to waste.”
  • A new White House Interagency Policy Committee (IPC) on Plastic Pollution and a Circular Economy, which “will coordinate federal efforts on plastic pollution, prioritizing public health, economic development, and equity to ensure that the benefits of acting on plastic pollution – including jobs, minimized exposure to harmful chemicals, and clean communities – are available to all.”

Plastic Pollution Coalition applauds the Biden-Harris Administration’s recognition that plastic pollution is an environmental and social justice issue that disproportionately impacts Black, Brown, and Indigenous (BIPOC), and rural and low-income communities. The details of the plans will be key, as will the timeline for implementation.

When it comes to plastic pollution, there is no “away.” For far too long, the fossil fuel industry has promoted plastic as disposable and treated communities as sacrifice zones. It’s time communities get the government protection from industry they deserve, and that the right to clean air, water, and soil is restored for everyone. This Earth Day, it is important to remember that we have just one planet to care for and share, and we are all in this together.

– Julia Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Plastic Pollution Coalition

A new major federal complaint, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (on behalf of the EPA) on February 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, brings to light how a neoprene plastic factory in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, is allegedly violating the Clean Air Act. Run by Denka Performance Elastomer since 2015 and previously by DuPont, the “Pontchartrain Works” facility, as it is known, presents an “imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare due to the cancer risks from Denka’s chloroprene emissions,” according to the official complaint. Denka’s facility is the only such plant emitting toxic chloroprene in the United States.

The federal complaint states that air monitoring around Denka’s facility have consistently shown high levels of chloroprene in the air—up to 14 times what’s considered a safe lifetime limit. According to the DOJ, the goal of the complaint is to compel Denka to significantly cut its chloroprene emissions for the safety and health of surrounding communities. The complaint also calls on DuPont, which rents the land out to Denka, to hold the polluter accountable for cutting emissions. 

The EPA in 2010 concluded in a peer-reviewed assessment that chloroprene is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” and that “childhood may represent a potentially susceptible lifestage to chloroprene toxicity.” This is especially concerning given the close proximity of Fifth Ward Elementary School, and other schools, to Denka’s polluting facility. 

Residents of Reserve and LaPlace, in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, have long spoken out against the neoprene facility situated between both communities in predominantly Black neighborhoods that has been emitting toxic chloroprene gas and other pollutants since 1968. Despite community concerns and actions, including recent class-action lawsuits, requests for Louisiana State agencies to take action, and evidence that they carry the highest risk of cancer in the country (at least 50 times the national average for residents nearest the facility), as well as international attention on environmental injustice in southern Louisiana, and ongoing U.S. EPA air monitoring and visits to the facility producing worrying findings on toxic emissions and worker safety, the plant has continued to operate.

As residents of Reserve and LaPlace await action and answers to arise from this new federal action, we encourage you to listen to and watch community testimony, which has been collected and shared by Concerned Citizens of St. John. This group has brought much attention to the environmental racism inherent in the unjust placement of industry in their communities and others like it. Environmental racism is a form of violence against Black people, and other underserved groups, and in St. John the Baptist Parish is inherently linked to the inhuman legacy of slavery in the United States.


The EPA’s new designation of PFOS and PFOA as “hazardous substances” under the “Superfund” act is a positive—but far from final—step toward adequately regulating manmade, toxic perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) “forever chemicals.”

 PFOS and PFOA have been largely phased out of new production in the U.S. by industries due to many years of mounting evidence on PFAS toxicity and persistence, but these chemicals have been manufactured into plastics and other products for decades and are still widely found in existing consumer goods such as nonstick cookware and rainproof clothing as well as in landfills and the environment. More than 3,000 poly- and PFAS forever chemicals are in existence today, and many other varieties of PFAS are just as toxic as PFOS and PFOA. While the EPA’s new designation of PFOS and PFOA as “hazardous”  further magnifies the need to protect human and environmental health from toxic PFAS, it would rely on unreliable information provided by PFAS polluters, and while the move could compel cleanups of PFAS-contaminated sites, the EPA fails to enact enforceable regulation around PFAS’ manufacture and use. The public deserves real transparency around production and releases of toxic PFAS, as well as assurance that polluters will be held accountable for cleaning up their mess. A designation of hazardous is not a strict enough regulation of a hazardous substance. More must be done to address the widespread pollution of PFOS, PFOA, and other PFAS across the planet and in our bodies.


Decades-old EPA Limits Require Update As Plastic Production Booms

WASHINGTON― More than 270 community and conservation organizations filed a legal petition today 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.

Today’s 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. 

“It’s appalling that the plastic industry is filling our waterways with plastic pellets and toxic chemicals under antiquated regulations,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, the Center for Biological Diversity attorney who authored the petition. “The EPA shouldn’t let petrochemical polluters spew one more ounce of plastic pollution into our rivers and oceans. We need rigorous new rules to counter this growing threat to public health, marine life and the climate.”

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 the 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.

Most groups supporting the petition have been fighting existing petrochemical plants and the nearly 300 new projects proposed around the country. Those include projects planned by Formosa Plastics, which a federal judge recently found liable for routinely polluting Texas waterways with billions of plastic pellets just as it’s proposing to build a massive new plastics plant in St. James Parish, La. 

“We showed how recklessly Formosa Plastics pollutes our waterways and communities. The plastics industry clearly needs stronger regulations and oversight,” said Diane Wilson with San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper and lead plaintiff in the successful civil lawsuit over plastic pollution from the Point Comfort, Texas plant. “As a former shrimper, I know how plastic pollution threatens seafood and other vital industries. And as someone who spent years documenting this plastic pollution, I think it’s time for the federal government to regulate this industry properly.” 

“Waterkeepers around the world work every day to address the growing plastic pollution crisis by sampling microplastics, helping reduce packaging and collecting ocean plastic pollution. Now we need the federal government’s help too,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “The United States has traditionally been a global leader in addressing water pollution challenges, and we have the ways and means to combat this global epidemic. It’s time for EPA to make meaningful efforts to achieve 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.”  

An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enters 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 sicken marine life — and, ultimately, humans who eat contaminated seafood. Plastics can also choke or entangle marine life, including sea turtles and whales.   

“Whales, turtles and other cherished marine species are dying because of the millions of tons of plastic in their environment,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “The plastic industry’s business model depends on avoiding responsibility for the deaths of a whale killed by 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach or the death of a sea turtle killed by eating just one piece of plastic. The fossil fuel industry is waging a silent war against wildlife, hammering species from all sides, be it climate change, spills, or plastic pollution. It’s unacceptable and we need to immediately reverse course or many of the marine species we love will be a thing of the past.” 

Plastic-creating petrochemical plants, which are often located in low-income communities of color along the Gulf Coast and Appalachia, emit tons of air and water pollution. Water pollution now permitted by these plants include benzene, dioxin, phthalates, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, all harmful to human health. 

“My community is suffering enough from industrial pollution,” said Sharon Lavigne, director of Rise St. James, which formed to fight a Formosa Plastics plant proposed for her Louisiana neighborhood. “The federal government is supposed to protect us and they’re not. We’re going up against a billion-dollar industry and we need help in that fight.”

The plastic industry has announced plans to increase North American plastic production by at least 35 percent by 2025. The increased production is being driven by an oversupply of fracked natural gas. Some of the biggest projects are ethane cracker plants that produce plastic, much of which is turned into single-use packaging.

“Confronting the climate crisis demands an immediate, rapid, and complete transition away from fossil fuels and plastics are simply fossil fuels in another form,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law. “As the clean energy transition accelerates, the petroleum industry is trying to salvage its future by transforming our dependence on oil and gas into an ever-greater addiction to plastics. Doing so will accelerate the plastics crisis even as it undermines global efforts to avert climate chaos.”

In addition the groups mentioned above, co-signers on the petition in
clude Plastic Pollution Coalition, Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Earthworks, 350.org, Food & Water Watch, Surfrider Foundation, Environment America, The Climate Reality Project, U.S. PIRG and other national conservation groups; more than 90 Waterkeeper Alliance and 11 Indivisible chapters and affiliates from around the country; Sacred Places Institute, Wishtoyo Foundation, and other social justice and Indigenous groups; and local groups actively fighting proposed petrochemical projects in their regions, including Healthy Gulf, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, No Waste Louisiana, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. A complete list of co-signers is available here.

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