Guest Voices Gulf Coast Take Action

Gulf Coast Activist Diane Wilson Seeks to Hold Formosa Accountable for Toxic Spill in Vietnam

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Diane Wilson. Image: Goldman Environmental Prize
Diane Wilson. Image: Goldman Environmental Prize

Goldman Environmental Prize-winning activist and fourth-generation fisherman Diane Wilson cites jailing and mistreatment of those seeking justice for the devastation of coastal fisheries in launching the solidarity Global Hunger Strike.

Diane Wilson

As a fourth-generation fisherman, I’m proud to call the Texas’ Gulf Coast my home. My family has occupied the area for at least 130 years and the bay, fish houses, and fishermen were the heart and soul of our communities.

When I was shrimping and had five small children to raise, the Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) powder from Formosa Plastics was covering the roads, cars, and swimming pools in the town where they did business. It was also covering the workers inside the units and warehouses.

Shrimpers and fishermen who used to fish in the lakes and shrimp in upper Lavaca Bay complained that a fish called black drum had sores and the shrimp had black masses in their heads. Now the shrimp have disappeared.

I was shocked to discover the hold that Formosa Plastics Group had over our communities. After their big plastic expansion, there was much disruption in the town where they did business.

Diane Wilson

They bought out the homes and land. Even the elementary school is gone and is now Formosa’s training center. They’ve run off ranchers who had been there 160 years. Once I learned in 1989 that my home county had the most toxic pollution of any county in the United States, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory Program, I knew I had to act.

When Formosa announced their $3 billion plastic expansion for their Point Comfort facility and asked the EPA for permission to dump chemicals into the surrounding water, I fought the company and demanded they reduce their wastewater release. Naturally, that went nowhere.

So a scraggly band of fishermen and injured workers from the Formosa plant began to comb the waters for plastic powder and pea-sized pieces of plastic pellets, sometimes called nurdles.

Once we had collected 2,500 bags of evidence to prove that Formosa was violating the Clean Water Act, we filed a citizen clean water suit. In 2019, we achieved a historic victory with this lawsuit when a federal judge ruled Formosa must pay $50 million and in addition invest in zero discharge of plastics, pollution cleanups, habitat restoration, monitoring, and additional enforcement. It is estimated Formosa has invested $1 billion because of our lawsuit.

Through persistence and community solidarity, we were able to secure at least partial accountability against a Big Plastics giant that’s responsible for a variety of human rights abuses and environmental degradation in at least four countries.

While the fight for accountability in my home state isn’t over, my focus is now shifting overseas.

On October 31, working with the International Monitor Formosa Alliance, I launched a Global Hunger Strike against Formosa Plastics in front of the Point Comfort Facility to raise awareness for and bring justice to victims of the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Plant disaster in Vietnam.

Stormwater outfall at Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas. Image: San Antonio Bay Waterkeeper
Stormwater outfall at Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas. Image: San Antonio Bay Waterkeeper

Seven years ago, this plant released an enormous amount of toxic chemicals into the sea, causing serious damage to marine life and devastating the lives of over 179,000 residents. To this day, many victims have not been compensated despite the $500 million paid directly to the Vietnamese government by Formosa Plastics. Those who’ve covered the issue, protested, or pursued legal action have been unlawfully detained, and nearly 8,000 victims have filed lawsuits.

It’s clear that what happened in my home state isn’t unique, but one of many incidents that point to a disturbing trend by which Formosa Plastics Group is engaging in toxic and abusive practices that are tearing communities apart across the globe. In addition to Vietnam, St. James Parish in Louisiana also faces the construction of a $12 billion Formosa plant that will disproportionately harm Black residents already overburdened by pollution in Cancer Alley.

It’s heartbreaking to see so many parts of the ongoing disaster in Vietnam mirror my own experience in Texas—including covert government corruption, the intimidation and unlawful treatment of activists, and little to no corporate accountability. Nevertheless, if I was able to overcome such seemingly impossible circumstances, I’m confident that Vietnamese fishermen and environmental activists can do the same.

The International Monitor Formosa Alliance and I demand that victims for the Ha Tinh Plant disaster receive fair and equitable compensation, which starts with a full investigation into the harms caused by Formosa in the region.

Affected areas should also be officially assessed to make sure that all pollution from the plant has ceased. Additionally, all political prisoners who’ve been jailed for standing up against Big Plastic and the Vietnamese government should be released immediately. These demands are far from unreasonable—yet, Formosa and government officials in Vietnam have dragged their feet or denied the ongoing problem altogether. This complacency towards our environment and our planet can no longer be tolerated.

For the past 35 years, I’ve watched Formosa Plastics cause irreparable harm to local environments and surrounding communities around the world. As we fight for justice for victims on the Gulf, we must also stand in solidarity with our fellow activists in Vietnam.


Diane Wilson is a fourth-generation South Texas shrimper and environmental justice activist in the Gulf and beyond. In 2023, she received the Goldman Prize for environmental activism. Learn more about the Global Hunger Strike by visiting International Monitor Formosa Alliance.

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