Government officials pointed the finger at a textiles industry plant Tuesday night during a meeting regarding a fish kill in the Ogeechee River, and an Atlanta attorney announced a class action suit has been filed against the company.
Hundreds of concerned citizens filled the Effingham County Middle School cafeteria to hear answers to questions they had about the fish kill in the Ogeechee that was first reported the weekend of May 20.
Spokesmen from the Environmental Protection Division and Georgia Department of Natural Resources said an investigation is “ongoing” regarding King America Finishing, a textiles treatment facility in Screven County that discharges waste into the river.
Tests showed abnormal levels of formaldehyde, ammonia, and sodium hydroxide (lye), all of which are used in the textiles treatment industry.
Atlanta area attorney Edwin Hallman said he filed a class action suit in Fulton County against King America Finishing, and at the time had three clients.
EPD officials handed out an outline of the government’s response to the fish kill beginning its first report to the EPD Friday, May 20, at 6:18 p.m., all the way to the meeting Tuesday.
DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division Region 7 Supervisor Tim Barrett showed slides of the river and fish killed, explaining he was notified of the kill Saturday, May 21, and immediately went to the Rocky Ford landing, where he found no fish dying. As a matter of fact, he met with a group of University of Georgia students who were sampling fish for their studies. “At Rocky Ford, everything was fine,” he said.
But upon checking the U.S. 301 North landing, he found “dead fish, dying fish, even fish that were dead for three or four days.” When he checked upriver, he found the source of the fish kill – close to the King America discharge pipe.
“Usually it’s not that clear, but this is the top of the fish kill,” he said.
Even gar fish, which are hardy, were found dead. “Who would have thought you could kill a gar? We knew something was going on.”
Tests proved the fish died from columnaris, a bacteria. However, environmental stress caused the fish kill, and it was not a natural stressor, due to the variety of fish affected, he said.
Over 33,000 fish were killed in the incident, he said. About two thirds of the dead fish were sunfish, followed by largemouth bass.
Bruce Foisy, of the Coastal District EPD, said, “We’ve done a pretty exhaustive search for a catastrophic release of chemicals into the river.” Showing a slide of an aerial view of the King America Finishing site, he added “That’s where our focus has been.”
The May 23 inspection of the plant showed no obvious violations, he said. Further investigations included checking floor drains and Jackson Branch, a stream that runs through the property into the Ogeechee. Officials said they found nothing.
He addressed rumors that a sludge pond dam broke, and said there was no evidence of that, although a trench had been cut between two dams. He said speculation about many loads of dirt being brought into the plant property were true, because the company is filling in an old landfill.
“We have looked at the (King America) wastewater treatment plant, and we will continue to look at the wastewater treatment plant,” he said.
“We have looked at records, and we will continue to look at records. This is a puzzle that has to be put together.”
Barrett said there are plans to restock the river with fish, but results won’t be seen for a year and a half to two years. That announcement was met with resounding applause, but citizens fired questions at EPD and DNR officials and many demanded that the textiles plant be closed.
Hallman asked the panel of government officials whether King America employees had been sworn under oath and deposed, and questioned about practices and events at the plant. The answer from EPD was no, they had not.
For further details of the meeting and the EPD response to the fish kill, see Thursday’s Statesboro Herald.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.