CATAWBA, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Neighbors in Lancaster and York counties are still fighting against the New Indy Paper Mill pushing out a rotten egg smell.
Kerri Ann Bishop has been spearheading the research and the fighting against the plant that sits along the Catawba River. She says the issue has been persistent since 2018.
“I know when it’s in the air, I don’t even need to look at the wind,” Bishop said. “I can just tell based on, like, what my body feels. My husband was home for a week. He’s usually not home all the time, but he was home for a week and had a bloody nose, which he doesn’t ever get. So, I know there’s stuff in the air, even when I don’t smell it and I’m just exhausted.”
David Hoyle with Motley Rice, LLC, says the Mount Pleasant-based firm has three lawsuits on file and is involved in one appeal.
“The first lawsuit that we filed was a class-action lawsuit that is attempting to hold New Indy accountable for the harm it’s causing this community,” Hoyle said. “It’s seeking remediation of the harm. In other words, trying to get New Indy to fix the problem.”
Hoyle said a second lawsuit alleges that New Indy failed to obtain ‘a prevention, a significant deterioration permit’ that was part of their conversion from producing white paper to line or board.
The third alleges that dioxins and other hazardous substances are being discharged from the mill into the Good Harbor River.
“That lawsuit’s brought under the Clean Water Act, as well as the Resource Conservation and Reclamation Act,” Hoyle said. “We also just yesterday filed our brief and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond concerning the Court’s denial of our attempt to intervene in the EPA enforcement lawsuit that they filed back in June of 2021.”
He says they’re working as fast as the courts will allow – but a judgement may take a little longer than neighbors are expecting.
“I’m currently working on litigation in west Michigan that’s been going on for almost five years,” Hoyle said. “Certainly, environmental cases wrap up, maybe in two, or three years. But the vast majority of environmental cases can last years.”
And it may take even longer if New Indy continues to violate the consent decree issued in November 2022.
But less than a month ago, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control notified New Indy of violating the order for failing to provide an approvable performance engineering report.
Bishop says it goes further than that claiming New Indy has up to 19 violations since it agreed to the decree.
“The best indicator of exposure is smelling it,” she said. “So if we’re all smelling this, you know, sweet urinal-cake smell and hydrogen sulfide, which is, you know, a rotten odor, then we’re obviously being exposed and how much and some don’t have odor.”
The EPA notified New Indy of violations in December – but no action has been taken since.
The EPA responded to Queen City News’ request for comment via email saying, “if [the] EPA identifies any violations that pose an immediate risk to human health or the environment, the EPA will take immediate action.”
Hoyle is pleased the federal agency is addressing the issue, but not necessarily in a scope he would like.
“The EPA persisted for over a year and only looking at this from a very narrow hydrogen sulfide issue,” Hoyle said. “And this letter that they sent out in December, quite frankly, is too little, too late. But what it does, is confirm the allegations that we have been making in our areas, lawsuits since we first filed in May of 2021.”
So what’s next?
“We expect in the next 60 days to begin taking depositions,” Hoyle said. “I think these depositions will provide us additional information to better explain how this calamity came to happen. And we continue to move forward with an aggressive remediation plan to try and fix the problem and bring some relief to this community.”
New Indy sent Queen City News two statements regarding the EPA notice letter from December 2022 and “recent false allegations made by plaintiffs’ attorneys about alleged dioxin discharges from the site.”
New-Indy categorically denies the baseless accusations made by trial lawyers claiming the mill is discharging pollutants (dissolved solids, sulfate and organic and inorganic compounds) to the groundwater that flows to the Catawba River. Their lawsuit seeks to turn a profit at the expense of the public good by spreading false, scientifically far-fetched allegations. Since the acquisition of the former Bowater paper mill by New-Indy on December 31, 2018, no dioxin has been produced by the papermaking process and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has determined and stated that there is no evidence of contamination leaving the property in groundwater.
New-Indy Catawba LLC received the Notice of Potential Violation and Opportunity to Confer in early December 2022. We have conferred with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) twice since receiving that document. We have also provided the EPA with some supplemental information. We are still in the process of providing the EPA with responsive information at this time.