A higher than normal flood tide that rose over the seawall dropped an unusual bit of flotsam at Mamaroneck’s Harbor Island Park in late February: tiny, white, plastic pellets, like tapioca. A million of them, by Katherine Desmond’s rough estimate.
Katherine, who has lived in Mamaroneck, NY since the 1970s, said she discovered the plastic pellets while visiting the building that will soon become Mamaroneck Village’s Marine Education Center, which she has been instrumental in organizing.
Millions of plastic pellets obviously are not part of the typical high tide detritus. But where did they come from?
Katherine told us that in the 1990s, she would walk home from work through Mamaroneck’s small industrial area. When she saw the pellets littering Harbor Island, she remembered that she had seen something similar before: on the sidewalk outside Marval Industries.
Marval is based on Hoyt Avenue in Mamaroneck. As its website says, the company provides industries with cut plastic pellets, among other products and services.
Katherine called the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which investigated immediately, as did Mamaroneck Village. On March 6, the DEC issued a notice of violation to Marval. The notice said that the DEC staff had:
“… inspected the Mamaroneck Harbor area … , Mamaroneck Beach and the side walk along Hoyt Ave in Village of Mamaroneck on March 4, 2013. At the time of this inspection, staff observed the accumulation of small white plastic resin pellets along high water line in and around the harbor area. Staff was able to trace the pellets back to 315 Hoyt Ave. at Marval Industries.”
Marval Industries is located next to the Sheldrake River, which flows into the Mamaroneck River, which empties into Mamaroneck Harbor. Presumably the pellets made their way from the Marval facility through storm drains and then into the river and harbor.
Three weeks later, Katherine received an email from Mamaroneck Village Hall, saying Marval had hired a contractor to clean up the pellets. According the Katherine, the email went on to say:
“Marval has continued to periodically check the harbor and stream locations. As you are already aware, Marval workers responded promptly to the initial call from the NYSDEC on March 6th and on March 7th performed a clean-up of washed up debris that included plastic pellets. Since that initial clean-up there have been no observations of any additional plastic pellets. We plan to conduct another walk-thru and cleanup at these same locations later this morning since the ground thaw conditions are more favorable to remove any residual pellets.”
Katherine sent us her reaction:
“Considering the fact that it’s virtually impossible to collect every single plastic pellet that entered our Harbor, it must never happen again. It will be up to Marval Industries, the DEC, and the Village of Mamaroneck to see that it never does. I will hope for the best. So far, so good. I’m impressed.”
Like Katherine, we were glad to see the swift cleanup, but equally as important is the assurance that this will not happen again. So we called the DEC and were told that the case against Marval is proceeding.
One of the keys to the case, perhaps, can be found in the notice of violation that the DEC sent to Marval.
According to it, in June 2012 Marval certified with the DEC that it was excluded from the state’s general stormwater permit. An industry is eligible for an exclusion, according to the notice, “if all industrial materials and activities are protected by a storm resistant shelter to prevent exposure to rain, snow, snow melt and/or runoff.”
In other words, Marval told the DEC about eight months before the pellets were found that it had a system in place to prevent plastic pellets and other pollutants from getting into the stormwater.
The notice also stated that if there was a change in that protection system, Marval was required to notify the state and come into compliance with the state’s general stormwater permit. Apparently, Marval did not do that. Due in part to that failure, DEC notified Marval that it was in violation of multiple provisions of state law, putting Marval at risk for penalties of up to $37,500 per day, per violation.
As part of the process, DEC also required Marval to institute a Corrective Action Plan which, among other things, mandates the installation of additional wire screens, conduction of inspections of outfalls and Harbor clean-up locations, and submission of monitoring reports. Most importantly, it also requires Marval to come into compliance with state pollution permit requirements by opting into the very Multi-Sector General Permit it originally opted out of. Along with this, they are to correct several deficiencies in its related Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan by May 1, 2013.
We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they happen, but whatever the outcome, we would like to thank Katherine Desmond for alerting Save the Sound to this issue and for being an active environmental steward. Her keen eye, dedicated follow-up, and citizen activism are exactly what we need to help Long Island Sound thrive.
Posted by Tom Andersen, Posted by Tom Andersen, NY program and communications coordinator for Save the Sound. Tom is also the author of This Fine Piece of Water: An Environmental History of Long Island Sound.