King America Finishing is not discharging pink-tinted water into the Ogeechee River, nor has it violated its discharge permits, a spokesman for the Screven County textiles plant said Friday.
But Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp said Thursday that she received four complaints last week from residents who claimed they saw pinkish-red coloration in the water downriver from the plant.
An aerial photo of King America Finishing, provided by Wedincamp, shows a holding pond containing pink liquid. Attorney Lee Lehihns III, King America spokesman, said Friday there has been “no pinkish effluent coming from our facility.”
Environmental Protection Division spokesman Kevin Chambers said Friday the textiles plant has a holding pond, a “sludge pond,” that was shown in photographs as having pinkish water in it. However, that holding pond does not release into the river, he said.
Wedincamp said Friday that her organization received complaints about either pink, red or “rust-colored water in the river” and the reports came from people who said the discoloration was seen “scattered down the river basin” in several locations.
A 3-foot-long catfish was found dead in Effingham County on Wednesday, and Effingham County Emergency Management Agency Director Ed Myrick closed river landings, issuing an advisory against swimming and eating fish from the river, stating the catfish appeared to have died from columnaris. The bacterial disease is exacerbated by environmental stress, and Myrick said he thinks chemicals in King America Finishing’s waters have contributed to the problem.
“It is apparent that the pollutants in the Ogeechee River are continuing to be an ongoing problem and may always be …” Myrick said. “I sympathize with the businesses that depend on the Ogeechee River for income, but we must look after the health and safety of everyone involved.”
Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn followed suit Thursday, issuing warnings about eating fish from and swimming in the river. Wedincamp also said Thursday that she received two complaints from residents who said they suffered skin rashes after swimming in the Ogeechee.
This follows a massive fish kill in May 2011, when about 38,000 fish floated to the banks of the river along a 70-mile stretch downriver of the plant.
Then, Wedincamp said people reported rashes, blisters, and respiratory problems after being in the river that weekend, which was Memorial Day. Several residents have an active suit against King America Finishing and the EPD, claiming physical injury and loss of property value because of the river conditions.
A year later, also on Memorial Day weekend, a second fish kill was reported on a much smaller scale.
Several public hearings have been held since the 2011 fish kill, and many people attending them blamed the plant for the dead fish. Wedincamp said tests show there are elevated levels of chemicals, including ammonia and formaldehyde, downriver of the plant, in higher concentrations than form water samples taken upriver.
Also, no dead fish have been found upriver from King America; only downriver. Some people stated in public hearings that this would indicate something occurring near the plant in Dover is causing fish to die.
Wedincamp has said residents also have complained of sandbars and river water being stained with color on several occasions.
The plant does not have a permit for color discharge, she said, adding that in doing so, King America is in violation of state law.
“King has been in violation of state narrative water quality standards due to its illegal discharges of color. Georgia’s state water quality standards require that ‘all waters shall be free from material related to municipal, industrial or other discharges which produce turbidity, color, odor or other objectionable conditions which interfere with legitimate water uses.’ “Georgia courts have held that discharges by facilities that discolor a river so as to interfere with legitimate aesthetic uses of the water are in violation of the Georgia Rules’ proscription of discharge which produces discoloration, and therefore, also is in violation of the Clean Water Act,” she said.
Chambers said Friday initial tests conducted by EPD officials along the river found no violations by the plant, and no dead fish beyond the single large catfish, were found.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.
What: Hearing a challenge brought by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper against a consent order between the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and King America Finishing.
When: 2 p.m. Monday
Where: Bulloch County Superior Court, Judicial Annex Building, Siebald Street, Statesboro, in Judge John R. Turner’s courtroom