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EPD: King violated river permit
Plant ordered to spend $1M to help Ogeechee
Ogeechee File Web
In this Herald file photo from May, Ogeechee Riverkeeper director Dianna Wedincamp collects a dead fish on the Ogeechee River near U.S. 301 while investigating the mass fish kill. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/Herald File

   King America Finishing will fund $1 million in environmental improvements to the Ogeechee River after a finding that the plant violated discharge permits to dump toxins into the river.
    After an investigation lasting more than three months, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division found the Screven County textiles plant in violation of discharge permits as well as the state’s Clean Water Act, said Georgia EPD Assistant Director Jim Ussery.
    Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp expressed approval of the EPD’s order.
    “The pollution from King America Finishing is a serious threat to the health and safety of local families and river wildlife. We are grateful to EPD for acting on this situation,” she said. “We like the $1 million figure. It’s a warning bell that every other polluter along the Ogeechee River should hear loud and clear.”
    King America CEO Mike Beasley declined to comment on the order, referring callers with questions to spokesman Lee Dehines who did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.
    EPD communications director Kevin Chambers said the agency executed a consent order Wednesday with King America Finishing “to address violations of the Georgia Water Quality Control Act that were discovered during EPD's investigation of the fish kill on the Ogeechee River that occurred in May of this year.”
    Almost 39,000 fish were killed on or around May 23, when the kill was reported. Thousands of fish were left rotting on the banks, and the river was closed for fishing and swimming. Some people reported illnesses including nausea, respiratory problems and blisters following excursions in the river at that time, but no illnesses were ever proven to be linked to any substance in the waters.
    The fish were found to have been killed by the columnaris bacteria, caused by environmental stress, and it was suggested by some that chemicals from the effluent discharged into the Ogeechee by King America was the cause.
    The EPD’s investigation revealed the plant did indeed violate discharge permits by releasing chemicals in unacceptable levels of concentration; by not conducting testing and reporting as required; and by not having adequate wastewater treatment procedures, he said.
    “During our investigation, it was discovered that the company had added a fire retardant treatment process that generated wastewater, which was ultimately discharged to the Ogeechee River in violation of their permit,” Chambers said. “Once EPD became aware of the unauthorized discharge, the company ceased operation (of the flame retardant line).”
    The plant halted its flame retardant line from June to July for about four weeks during the investigation. EPD officials worked with plant leaders to correct the issues.
    Inspections after fish kill conducted through September showed “unauthorized discharge of wastewater” from the plant’s flame retardant line and noted pH monitoring was not being done continuously, according to reports.
    Also, investigators found acid totes were placed improperly, a violation that had also occurred in 2007. There also was no pH alarm system implemented to alert plant operators when the effluent pH was imbalanced.
    Water samples taken by EPD investigators showed unacceptable and excessive formaldehyde from water tests, and in testing of the plant’s wastewater treatment facility, they discovered “minimal living biological organisms necessary for wastewater treatment.”
    When King America applied for reissuance of permits in 2006 the EPD inspected the plant, where permits allowed a flame retardant containing phosphonium chloride, anhydrous ammonia, sodium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide and fabric softener.
    As a solution to the recent effluent violations, King America removed the ammonia condensate from flame retardant lines, according to reports.
    Investigators also learned plant operators “failed to provide advance notice” regarding changes to their procedures, and failed to properly record testing incidents and comply with testing requirements.
    As a result of the investigation, the consent order demands King America Finishing to submit plans to fund Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) to the tune of $1 million, Chambers said.
    As federally and state-approved alternatives to cash settlements,“ SEPs allow targeting of monies and projects at the local level that are beneficial to the river and those living in the affected watershed,” he said. “EPD will ensure that the approved SEPs will address improvements to the local environment and be beneficial to the local community.”
    The SEPs will not include restocking the river as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is handling that issue, he said.
    King America must submit a plan within 90 days, and has 18 months to complete the order mandates. Plant officials must make monthly reports to the EPD regarding the SEPs as well as testing and monitoring.
    “The consent order is very detailed, and we plan to review it carefully,” Wedincamp said. “We still have questions about how the $1 million will be used and hope the (order) addresses restoring the health of the Ogeechee River and not creating beautification projects along the river.  We will be watching this situation closely and we are ready to step in if the health of the river is not restored.”
    According to the EPD report, King America Finishing has had violations dating back to 2003, including pH violations and improper maintenance of the wastewater treatment facility .
    The report documented details of the fish kill and the subsequent investigation, including state officials being unable to reach King America emergency contacts the weekend of the fish kill, and the fact that Wedincamp, DNR officials and others noted there were no dead fish found north of the plant’s discharge pipe.
    Investigation reports also stated that unacceptable levels of formaldehyde and ammonia were found in water and sediment samples.
    The report never held King America Finishing entirely responsible for the fish kill, but stated that there is no known cause of the environmental stress that caused the outbreak of columnaris. The report suggested chemicals paired with low water flow, and extreme heat could have caused the death of almost 39,000 fish.
    “The first dead fish were found approximately 50 yards downstream of the King America Finishing Discharge,” Ussery said. “There were no fish dying of columnaris upstream of the discharge.”
    The plant corrected its effluent violations and having the discharge sent elsewhere is not necessary, he said.
    “As part of the agreement to allow King America to resume operations of the flame retardant line, (the plant) has to conduct both acute and chronic toxicity tests on their effluent,” he said.
    Tests showed chemicals released by the plant included formaldehyde, ammonia, sodium and sulfides. When asked why the plant could be allowed to release substancs such as formaldehyde into the river, Ussery said there are no current restrictions on the chemical.
     “Water quality criteria for many chemicals including formaldehyde have not been established,” he said. "Once the criteria are established, EPD will adopt them into state water quality standards.”
    However, the EPD requires all dischargers to conduct whole effluent toxicity tests to determine the toxicity of their effluent, he added. “These tests are considered surrogate tests for those chemicals that currently do not have established criteria.”
    King America Finishing has been discharging the effluent illegally since 2006, he reported. The violations were not discovered until attention was called to the situation when the massive fish kill was reported.
    Wedincamp said the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization still has in effect a 60-day notice of intent to sue against King America. The plant has until the end of the month to respond. King America also is being sued by a group of citizens; land owners with riverfront property and a Marine who claims health damages due to swimming in the river during the weekend of the fish kill.
    Wedincamp said she will have a more detailed response to the situation Sunday, Sept. 25 at a public meeting scheduled to be held at Dasher’s Landing at 3 p.m. in Blitchton.
    Holli Deal Bragg maybe reached at (912) 489-9414.

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