Lawsuit Prompts Review of Plastic Pollution on Hawaiʻi Beaches

April 6, 2020, 2:10 PM HST · Updated April 8, 7:04 AM
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Hawaiʻi beach strewn with plastic pollution. Photo by Raftography/Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Responding to a lawsuit from environmental groups, the Trump administration has ordered Hawaiʻi officials to examine the impact of plastic pollution on its waters, beaches and wildlife.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week notified state officials that it is withdrawing its 2018 approval of the “list of impaired waters” required under the Clean Water Act “specifically with respect to the consideration of plastics in Hawaiʻi waterbodies for which Hawaiʻi received data and information.”

Hawaiʻi now has until May 29 to evaluate whether plastic pollution is impairing any of the state’s water bodies, including threats to wildlife and people.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation sued the EPA in February for failing to protect 17 coastal water bodies around Hawaiʻi from widescale plastic pollution that covers beaches, degrades coral reefs and threatens birds, fish, sea turtles and other wildlife.

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“This is great news for Hawaiʻi, which has been hit hard by plastic pollution,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaii director.

“The ocean plastic pollution crisis is a public health crisis. Plastic permeates our waters, chokes wildlife and carries toxins onto our beaches, through our food web, and eventually onto our tables. It’s time for Hawaii to finally address this threat.”

Plastic pollution in Hawaiʻi ranges from microplastics that contaminate coastal waters and harm marine life to massive piles of plastic waste along Kamilo Beach, nicknamed “Plastic Beach.”

Studies indicate that 17 water bodies around the Hawaiian islands are impaired by plastic pollution.

“Our plastic pollution activists in Hawaii and around the nation are pleased to see this decision,” said Angela Howe, Esq., Surfrider Foundation’s legal director. “This is a critical first step to address marine plastic pollution through our nation’s water quality protection laws and to help prevent future degradation of beaches, coral and marine life.”

The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to designate as “impaired” all water bodies that fail to meet state water-quality standards. Once a water body is designated as impaired, officials must take action to reduce the pollution.

“We’re excited to see progress that will recognize plastic as a detrimental pollutant that infects our waters, coastlines and lives,” said Rafael Bergstrom, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. “This decision gives us hope that our institutions are beginning to take seriously the responsibility of protecting our most precious resources. With collective effort from community, government and business, we can turn the tide on plastic pollution.”

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