California Water Boards, EPA to Eliminate 'Nurdles' From San Francisco Bay

Nov. 3, 2011

Government ordered cleanup of illegally discharged plastic pellets will protect the bay and endangered species

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, State Water Resources Control Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have launched a first-in-the-nation enforcement effort to eliminate the discharge of pre-production plastic into the waters of California.

The collaborative enforcement effort is being done under the authority of the water board’s statewide industrial storm water permit. The first environmental cleanup ordered as a result of this joint effort is underway in San Leandro, Calif.

"Nurdles may sound harmless, but these small plastic pellets can do great damage to waterbodies like San Francisco Bay," EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Jared Blumenfeld said. "To protect our water resources, EPA is partnering with the state to require manufacturers to take steps to prevent pellet spills."

Pre-production plastic pellets are often called nurdles. They are very small and contribute to the growing problem of plastic debris in inland and coastal waters of California and the U.S.

Nurdles are often discharged into the environment while being unloaded from railcars at plastic manufacturing facilities, or being handled at those operations. They then wash into storm drains and out to open water with storm runoff. Spilled nurdles and other small pieces of plastic are eaten by fish, birds and other marine life. The plastic does not break down quickly, which displaces food in the animals’ stomach and can lead to starvation.

Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline in San Leandro is the site of the first cleanup ordered because of the collaborative effort between state and federal environmental agencies. Surprise inspections at four plastic manufacturers resulted in the discovery of nurdles discharges from those facilities. Some of those discharges ended up in endangered species habitat at Oyster Bay.

Source: EPA

Image by Burnham RNG, courtesy twentytwo & brand.