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Nurdle Patrol Wins Settlement From Formosa Plastics

A handful of nurdles, or plastic pellets, collected along Mustang Island in Port Aransas. Nurdles collected and recorded by citizen-scientists were used to prove that Formosa Plastics Corp. was polluting the Gulf of Mexico. The company has agreed to pay a $50 million settlement in a recent court case. Courtesy photo

Nurdle Patrol will receive $1 million over the next five years as part of a $50 million settlement with Formosa Plastics Corp. The largest-ever settlement of a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by private citizens was handed down December 2 by a U.S. District Court judge in Waterkeeper v. Formosa.

Along with the monetary settlement, Formosa Plastics also must stop releasing plastic waste from its Port Comfort plant. The lawsuit was filed by a group of people who collected nurdles over a four-year period to prove Formosa was polluting the Gulf Coast. They collected about 30 million nurdles, which are tiny plastic pellets.

The company was charged in a lawsuit with illegally dumping billions of nurdles into natural waterways. The pellets are used in manufacturing plastic bottles, bags, and other plastic products. Formosa is located in Calhoun County, where most of the dumping occurred.

Nurdle Patrol is a University of Texas Marine Science Institute program created to document and research the impact of plastic pollution along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. It is located in Port Aransas and run by the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at UTMSI.

The settlement is of historic proportions, according to experts, who say it could change how the U.S. plastics industry handles its pollution. Before the settlement, companies said “zero discharge” of the pellets was unattainable. By agreeing to no discharge, Formosa has ceded the point, setting a standard for the rest of the industry.

Nurdle patrols will be part of the enforcement mechanism used to monitor any future discharge. Nurdle patrols are volunteer citizen-scientists who collect nurdles and submit numbers and locations to UTMSI, which charts the data. Now, the information also will be reported to a court-appointed monitor approved by both parties.

None of the $50 million will go to the plaintiffs. Instead, the money will be used to fund educational, research, and conservation initiatives along the Gulf Coast.

Here’s where some of the rest of the money will go:

• $20 million to create a cooperative to revitalize depleted marine ecosystems and develop sustainable fishing, shrimping, and oyster harvesting;

• $10 million to turn Green Lake park into an environmentally sound public park;

• $2 million to control erosion and restore beaches at Magnolia Beach;

• $5 million for environmental research of San Antonio and Matagorda bay systems and the river deltas that feed into them;

• $750,000 to YMCA camps for children to learn how to be good stewards of marine environments;

• and $11.25 million for future local projects to pay trust costs.

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