Texas, sad champion of plastic pollution

Texas, sad champion of plastic pollution

MISE & Agrave; DAY

200 kilometers south of Houston, in Matagorda Bay where the Colorado flows, millions of plastic granules are scattered in nature. On a boat, Diane Wilson denounces this repeated industrial pollution of the Taiwanese giant Formosa.

This former shrimp fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico has been documenting, for years, the offenses of Formosa Plastics, the fourth largest producer of plastics in the world, which settled in 1983 at Point Comfort, near the waters where it sailed.

“When we took samples for Formosa, we found 2,000 violations. How many has the state of Texas found? Zero & nbsp; “, she told AFP on the deck of a fishing boat.

The American, record-holder polluter

Controllers regularly leave “state agencies and get hired in the chemical plant because you don't gain anything by being an inspector, agent or executive director in an environmental agency,” she adds.

The United States is by far the country contributing the most plastic pollution in the world, according to a report released Wednesday.

In total, the country generated 42 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2016, according to this analysis of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

This is more than double that of China and more than all the countries of the European Union put together, while the United States represents less than 5% of the world's population.

On average, each American generates 130 kilograms of plastic waste per year, with the UK second at 98 kilograms per person per year. In France, the average is 43 kilos.

With only 737 inhabitants, the village of Point Comfort now has 17 Formosa plastic production units, spread over 730 hectares.

Coming from a family of four generations of fishermen, Diane Wilson embodies the fight against pollution of the Taiwanese giant.

This mother of five especially fights against plastic granules, resembling small white marbles, which are found by the millions on the coast, caught in vegetation or covered with sand.

These end products , which Formosa Plastics customers will only have to melt, escape at the slightest gust of wind on the production line or when they are transferred to ships or trains.

< strong> “Fisherman's handle”

Denouncing the inaction of the public authorities, the Texan sued the company and managed to get it to sign an agreement in December 2019 which forced it to pay tens of thousands of dollars every day when it released pellets or plastic powder.

& nbsp; “Formosa has made 50 violations (of the agreement) since last June and paid around $ 1.1 million. The money goes to a trust called Matagorda. It finances environmental projects, ”explains Diane Wilson.

But the company's pollution doesn't stop there.

Legally, Formosa Plastics “dumps several million gallons (one gallon = about 4 liters) of toxic products into the bay every day and this has affected fishing. There were 400 to 600 fishermen in the area. We're lucky today if we find a handful, “says Wilson.

Lencho, 71, is one of the last: “We would go there, work all day and come back with 20 pots of shrimp,” he explains in his bait shop. “If you go to the same place today, work all day, you won't have a single locker! ».

Like Diane Wilson's, her children will not be fishermen. One of them works at Formosa Plastics.

The 104 billion dollar group also has factories in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, South Carolina, New York. -Jersey, Vietnam and Taiwan.

“Over the next decade in the United States there will be more greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production than from coal,” says Judith Enck, author of a report for Beyond Plastics , a project led by the University of Bennington (Vermont).

Released in October, this study reveals that almost 80% of CO2 emissions from the plastics industry are concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana and especially in Texas where 45.2% of emissions take place.

560 million dollars in fines

Plastic is made from a number of gases, particularly ethane. The south coast has many advantages for its production: cheap deregulated energy, a skilled workforce, and exceptional port and energy infrastructure.

But the region has another advantage according to Judith Enck: “A lot of the fossil fuel industries like to do business in Texas because environmental laws there are weak and poorly enforced.”

“Over the past 21 years, Formosa Plastics Group (…) has paid more than $ 560 million in fines,” says Jane Patton, author of a report (Formosa Plastics Group: a serial offender of environmental and human rights) released in October for the environmental NGO CIEL.

Asked by AFP for an interview, the Formosa company declined, referring to the 2019 agreement.

< p> From New Orleans, Jane Patton adds that she is worried that, despite this liability, the group has obtained the necessary authorizations to build a mega-complex of 14 factories in St. James, Louisiana, a few kilometers from the source of its drinking water.

Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the site will be “along the Mississippi, in the middle of an industrial and chemical corridor called the alley. of Cancer. Seven of the ten areas with the highest cancer rates in the United States are within 140 kilometers, ”says its report.

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