The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Baton Rouge to New Orleans

187.9 LBD ATOFINA Cos-Mar Plant Wharf


Nurdles: What Are Nurdles?

Below Baton Rouge you might have noticed the beach strewn with tiny clearish white plastic blobs about the size of a tear drop. Maybe you saw them during your walks along the shoreline; they are especially noticeable at water’s edge with other micro-detritus like bits of leaves, small twigs, decomposed coal and large grains of sand. These transluscent globular “pills” are the basic currency of the plastic industry. Composed of high-density polyethylene they are mostly inert (considered non-toxic) Nevertheless they have been known to vent phthalates in the oceans, and can cause digestive problems for living creatures. You probably haven’t seen them before now because they are not made above Baton Rouge. But below Baton Rouge, they are manufactured by the billions -- a major product of some of the industries found within Chem Corridor -- and of course are accidentally spilled during cargo transfer.

Nurdles or "nerdles" are mistakenly consumed as fish eggs, and have been found in the guts of fish and other creatures. Not only can they cause physical disruptions to respiration and/or digestion (in some cases blockage or suffocation), but they can emit toxins and simultaneously absorb toxins like PCBs out of the water. If you haven’t noticed nurdles, start looking, and then maybe remove them the beach and add to your trash bag before some fish or turtle inadvertently eats one. The dozen you pick up are insignificant to the quadrillions of nurdles that are manufactured every year, but as the saying goes “every little bit helps.”

Wikipedia offers a one line definition for nurdle: “A pre-production microplastic pellet about the size of a pea” Going to “microplastic,” Wiki continues: A large portion of marine debris consists of plastic particles, including nurdles, pre-production microplastic resin pellets typically under 5 mm (0.20 in) in diameter found outside of the typical plastic manufacturing stream and an intermediate good used to produce plastic final products; microbeads from cosmetics; and the breakdown products of plastic litter. Plastic particle water pollution is also referred to as mermaids' tears. Approximately 60 billion pounds (27 million tonnes of nurdles are manufactured annually in the United States. One pound of pelletized high-density polyethylene (HDPE) contains approximately 25,000 nurdles (approximately 20 mg per nurdle). (Wikipedia)

Nurdles are a major contributor to marine debris. During a three-month study of Orange County beaches researchers found them to be the most common beach contaminant. Nurdles comprised roughly 98% of the beach debris collected in a 2001 Orange County study. Waterborne nurdles may either be a raw material of plastic production, or from larger chunks of plastics. A major concentration of plastic may be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a growing collection of marine debris known for its high concentrations of plastic litter. Nurdles that escape from the plastic production process into waterways or oceans have become a significant source of ocean and beach plastic pollution. Marine life is severely threatened by these small pieces of plastic: the creatures that make up the base of the marine food chain, such as krill, are prematurely dying by choking on nurdles. Nurdles have frequently been found in the digestive tracts of various marine creatures, causing physiological damage by leaching plasticizers such as phthaltates. Nurdles can carry two types of micropollutants in the marine environment: native plastic additives and hydrophobic pollutants absorbed from seawater. For example, concentrations of PCBs and DDE on nurdles collected from Japanese coastal waters were found to be up to 1 million times higher than the levels detected in surrounding seawater. (Wikipedia)

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polyethylene high-density (PEHD) is a polyethylene thermoplastic made from petroleum. It is sometimes called "alkathene" or "polythene" when used for pipes. With a high strength-to-density ratio, HDPE is used in the production of plastic bottles, corrosion-resistant piping geomembranes, and plastic lumber. HDPE is commonly recycled, and has the number "2" as its resin identification code (formerly known as recycling symbol). (Wikipedia)

187.9 LBD Total Petrochemicals and Refining and Caravelle Energy Center

Total Petrochemicals operates a polystyrene production complex which produces styrene monomer from ethylbenzene and then polystyrene from styrene monomer. Total Petrochemical’s styrene’s complex is one of the largest polystyrene facilities in the world and can produce 1.45 billion pounds per year. Behind Total Petrochemical is a small natural gas fired power plant called Caravelle Energy Center. For all its activity, Total Petrochemicals and Refining made exponentially lower releases than other Chemical Corridor heavyweights, in 2013 22,196 pounds of toxins were released into the SoLa air, and only 7 pounds into the river. (Paul Orr)

187 LBD General Electric Co. Geismar Wharf


186.8 LBD Industrial Complex including PCS Nitrogen, Honeywell, and Williams Olefins

What is that long white mesa you see over the levee, something you might expect to see in Arizona or New Mexico? This chemical complex here is dominated by PCS Nitrogen which is owned by the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (hence PCS). PCS Nitrogen annually makes 0.50 million tonnes of ammonia, 2.4 million tonnes of nitrogen solutions, nitric acid, and ammonium nitrate and 0.2 million tonnes of phosphoric acid primarily for use in fertilizer manufacturing. PCS Nitrogen produces phosphoric acid by processing phosphate ore with sulfuric acid. This process results in a huge amount of phosphogypsum waste. This phosphogypsum is slightly radioactive because of the uranium and thorium that occurs in phosphate ore. Because of this the phosphogypsum waste is piled up into huge piles behind the facility. PCS Nitrogen has a permit to pile the phosphogypsum up to 200 feet tall. The pile is already approaching 150 feet and you may be able to see it looming up from the horizon from the river, looking something like a long white mesa, like a plateau you might encounter in the Four Corners area. On windy days long plumes of dust can be seen blowing wildly in the gusts. Honeywell International has a chemical facility on the downriver side of PCS Nitrogen that produces hydrofluoric acid, fluorocarbon refrigerants and AlconTM Resin. Williams Olefins has a chemical facility between PCS Nitrogen and the big phosphogypsum pile. The plant produces 40,000 tons of propylene and 650,000 tons of ethylene every year, for use in the plastics industry, through steam cracking of ethane and propane. On June 13, 2013 an explosion occurred in the plant killing two workers and injuring 114. Toxic Releases (TRI) for 2013 in pounds: PCS Nitrogen: Air: 983,744, Water: 1,058,406; Honeywell International: Air: 293,263, Water: 4,972; Williams Olefins: Air: 230,578, Water: 11. (Paul Orr)

186.0 LBD El Paso Field Services, Riverside Plant Wharf


185.3 LBD Methanex

One of Louisiana’s newest chemical plants. Methanex relocated two methanol production plants from Punta Arenas, Chile to this location between 2013 and 2015.