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Wednesday, October 5, 2022
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Proposed Microplastic Ban Scrapped by TCEQ

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Plastic pellets, known as nurdles, collected at Point Comfort in March 2019. | Image by Emree Weaver, The Texas Tribune

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This past March, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposed more regulations to combat microplastic pollution.

The move appeased climate activists’ pleas for stricter rules on companies polluting waterways and land with nurdles, pre-production plastic pellets used in the manufacture of plastics. These water quality revisions would force chemical companies to prove they had proactive programs in place to prevent such pollution. As of September, however, these regulations appear to have been scrapped.

According to research by the University of Texas, microplastics such as nurdles can be extremely dangerous for fragile ecosystems and the humans and animals inhabiting them. Nurdles, although not small enough to exist in human blood or lungs, contain toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons). These bits of plastic also absorb chemicals such as DDT, which remain trapped for the long process of decomposition of plastics.

When animals consume nurdles, it can make them feel full while providing no nutritional value. The toxins found in plastics can also cause liver damage and death for birds, fish, and mammals.

Although vague, the proposed water regulations banned any release of microplastics visible to the human eye. The TCEQ’s plan was even looser than a previous one proposed by State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) which banned the release of any microplastics, including ones we cannot see.

However, there was immediate pushback from large chemical manufacturers such as Dow Chemical Company. The chemical manufacturers claim that the TCEQ has no legal authority to regulate them and that the ban would result in massive expenses, around $322,000 to $25 million per company. When the TCEQ released its recent water quality standards update, bans on microplastics were not included.

Jace Tunnell, director of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, told the Tribune that he was grateful that microplastic bans are coming into the conversation. Tunnell runs a worldwide survey on nurdle pollution with the help of hundreds of volunteers. “Being able to see that there’s a solution to this plastic pollution is hopeful,” Tunnell told policymakers in 2019. “Ultimately, this stuff is out there for hundreds of years. The goal is to solve the problem so future generations aren’t having to deal with this.”        

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