LIHU‘E — Several environmental groups are taking a different approach to preventing plastic pollution in the ocean by taking the matter to court under the Clean Water Act.
The Kaua‘i Chapter of Surfrider Foundation is among the listed organizations that filed suit against the Trump Administration Wednesday for failing to protect 17 coastal water bodies around Hawaii from wide-scale plastic pollution.
The lawsuit challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s “failure to examine studies showing widespread plastic pollution in Hawai‘i’s coastal waters and declare the waters ‘impaired’ under the Clean Water Act.”
The Clean Water Act requires EPA to designate as “impaired” all bodies of water that fail to meet state water quality standards. Once a water body is designated impaired, officials are required to take action to reduce the pollution.
And, according to those involved, it’s a landmark move.
“It is the first time that EPA is being asked to consider plastic as a pollutant that needs to be monitored and regulated,” said Carl Berg, senior scientist with Kaua‘i Surfrider Foundation.
Annually, Kaua‘i Surfrider Foundation works under a marine debris program grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in partnership with Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund. Together, the two organizations collect more than 100 tons of plastic from Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island shorelines every year.
It comes in many forms, too, ranging from microplastics that contaminate the coastal waters and harm marine life, to massive piles of plastic at places like Kamilo Beach, or the plastic boat hull that’s stuck on the rocks on Kaua‘i’s Eastside.
Also adding their names to the lawsuit are organizations Center for Biological Diversity and Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i.
Rafael Bergstrom, executive director for Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i, said he and his team have witnessed the increasing threats of Hawaii’s plastic pollution epidemic firsthand.
“Every year, a denser wave of plastic makes its way into our coastal waters,” Bergstrom said. “This insidious pollution shows up as giant heaps of nets that strangle our endangered marine life and as microscopic fragments that are mistaken for food.”
Berg points out the Hawaiian åIslands “sieve out” the plastic from the Pacific Ocean, concentrating it into nearshore waters.
“Microplastics and the toxic chemicals that adhere to them are dangerous to marine life at all stages in their life cycle. Plastic should be considered a pollutant to all recreation waters and EPA should force polluters to stop putting public heath at risk,” Berg said.
According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs are requesting a declaration that EPA violated its duties under the Clean Water Act and an order requiring EPA to disapprove Hawai‘i’s list of impaired water bodies.
Jessica Else, editor-inchief, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.