“Our Waterways, Like Our Communities, Are Connected”: NOLA Businesses Are Against Formosa Plastics

Source: “Nurdles” by hockadilly is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

On April 8, the New Orleans City Council will consider Resolution 92 by Councilwomen Kristin Palmer and Cyndi Nguyen which opposes the construction of Formosa Plastics along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish. 

Of course, the complex is not being built in New Orleans, it’s being constructed in St. James, so why should the New Orleans City Council care about it? 

Because, as Michael Esealuka, a New Orleans-based environmental organizer put it “Our waterways, like our communities, are connected.”

The city council resolution explains that  “the petrochemical complex will discharge into the Mississippi River, our main drinking source, and into St. James Canal, which flows directly into Lac des Allemands, a major source of catfish, crab, shrimp, and other seafood in New Orleans… Expanding plastics production, without preventing plastics pollution, threatens the prosperity of our seafood industry, which is essential to the vitality and success of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s food culture and the tourism we rely on.”

Having a plastic plant so close to New Orleans will increase the likelihood of us being impacted by possible polluting incidents, like the CMA Bianca spill which happened in 2020, resulting in nearly a billion plastic pellets being spilled into the Mississippi River. 

No company was held accountable for the spill, the government did nothing about cleaning it up, so it was volunteers using tools like pasta strainers and brooms that had to try and recover the pellets. Despite volunteer’s heroic efforts, 500 million pellets are still unaccounted for, which means they continue to pollute waterways, killing off and sickening wildlife that Louisianians rely on for food and their businesses.

Councilwoman Kristen Palmer commented, “The reason why I’m so motivated about this because nobody is affecting the clean-up at all besides volunteers… nobody has taken responsibility for this. And so I basically posit, why are we then building more and expanding the footprint of our plastic companies if we’re failing to even do basic clean-up in our waterways.” 

Environmental activists warn that incidents like the CMA Bianca spill could become commonplace if the plastic plant is built in St. James. 

Esealuka commented, “We, the residents of New Orleans are left with no plan to prevent another spill. No plan for comprehensive cleaning efforts if another spill does take place. No penalties or accountability for the people responsible. What’s wrong with this picture?” 

Because of how the plastic plant could adversely affect waterways, some of the most vocal advocates against it have been people involved in the Louisiana seafood industry, including New Orleans restaurants. 

The Brennan Family, which owns popular eating establishments like Commander’s Palace and Dickie Brennan’s, wrote a letter to the New Orleans City Council on why they support the resolution. 

They wrote, “Following the Bianca Spill of nearly a billion plastic pellets into our Mississippi River, it is clear that neither industry nor federal or state agencies will take responsibility to prevent pellet spills. This plastic will exist in our waterways for thousands of years, obstructing the bellies of birds and fish. The petrochemical industry is a threat to our wildlife, our communities, our seafood industry, and our economy in Louisiana.” 

The letter went on to say, “Formosa Plastics is proposing to build one of the larges plastic plants in the world just upriver from New Orleans in St. James Parish. The massive complex would discharge chemical and plastic pollution into the Mississippi River and Lac Des Allemands, proclaimed the “Catfish Capital of the Universe” by our state legislature. This would mean more plastic spills, on the order of the Bianca Spill, at a regular clip, and irreparable damage to commercial, recreational and sport fishing, along with seafood suppliers and restaurants.” 

The owners of other New Orleans restaurants and businesses, for similar reasons, also strongly oppose the plant. Below is a list of some that have been advocating against it: 

  • Addis Nola, Biruk Alemayehu
  • Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, Joaquin Rodas
  • Carmo, Dana Honn
  • Carrollton Market, Jason Goodenough
  • Casa Borrega, Hugo Montero
  • Church Alley Coffee and Grocery, Reneé Blanchard
  • Dickie Brennan’s Restaurant Group
  • Food Policy Advisory Committee, Elisa Muñoz
  • Gary Watson Media, Gary Watson
  • Greater New Orleans Growers Alliance, Margee
  • Green Pepper Solutions, Pepper Roussel
  • Kebab, Walker Reisman
  • La Petite Grocery, Colin Lawson
  • Mosquito Supper Club, Melissa Martin
  • New Orleans Trap Kitchen, Eric Rothschild
  • Outlaw Catfish, Joey Fonseca
  • Peche Seafood Grill, Ryan Prewitt
  • Sprout NOLA, Margee Green 

While keeping our city’s well-being in mind is important, we also have to evaluate our position as a community that can advocate for our neighboring community. 

Sharon Lavigne, the founder and president of RISE St. James, commented that “Formosa Plastics chose St. James because we are poor, because we are black, and because no one would speak up.” 

New Orleanians need to speak up. Over and over again, St. James has functioned as a “sacrifice zone” for the state taking in industries that kill the parish’s own residents. 

“We cannot drink the water, plant a garden, or breathe clean air. Some people are dying of cancer, respiratory diseases, and other adverse health effects.” Lavigne explained, “The sickness of industrial greed and systematic racism is in our soil, our water, and our air. We are a sacrifice zone for the state. We are full. We cannot take anymore. All we get is sickness and death in St. James.” 

By passing this resolution, the New Orleans City Council is making a statement that we stand with the people of St. James. General Russell Honoré, who has vocally opposed the plastic plant project because of the disastrous effects it could have on Louisiana’s economy commented that “We need to do more than just make a statement.” 

The Formosa Plastics complex is not a done deal. Currently, the permits for Formosa Plastics are on hold, pending environmental impact analysis and requiring the plant to receive storm or wastewater permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Leave a comment to tell the Army Corps to revoke Formosa Plastics’ federal permit or check out 

StopFormosaPlastics.org for ways you can help the movement to save St. James and Louisiana’s tourism and seafood economy. 

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