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03 • 30 • 2020

EPA requires Hawaii to account for plastic pollution under Clean Water Act

Victory! EPA requires Hawaii to account for plastic pollution under Clean Water Act

On March 30, 2020 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) ordered Hawaii’s Department of Health (DOH) to consider whether plastic is polluting the state’s water. In 2018, the DOH compiled a list of impaired waters across the state. Per the EPA's ruling, Hawaii's DOH failed to evaluate data related to plastics when compiling the 2018 list. 

In February 2020, the Kaua'i Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation joined the Center for Biological Diversity and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to address plastic pollution under the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit challenged EPA's failure to examine studies showing widespread plastic pollution in Hawaii’s coastal waters and declare the waters “impaired” under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. Once a water body is designated as impaired, officials must take action to reduce the pollution.

Plastic pollution in Hawaii 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. The EPA's ruling not only sets a new precedent for evaluating Hawaii's state waters, but will also likely improve water quality assessment and protections across the United States. In addition, this ruling will further encourage the EPA to incorporate data from plastic trash and microplastics into their water quality safety standards nationwide.