Recent water test results at the site of King America Finishing, a Screven County textiles plant under fire by Ogeechee River advocates concerned about pollution, were erroneous, according to an attorney representing the company.
Rumors that the plant is being sold are also false, said Lee DeHihns, a King America attorney.
Original test results for two toxic chemicals in groundwater samples showed elevated levels of cadmium and penanthrene, but further tests proved the original results to be false.
“Last year, King America hired a company to sample the soil and shallow groundwater at the plant,” DeHihns said. “One of the test wells did show elevated levels of one metal and one petroleum compound.”
Tests in December showed elevated levels of cadmium and penanthrene, according to Georgia Environmental Protection Division spokesman Kevin Chambers.
However, the method of testing used has been known to produce false returns, and EPD officials ordered King America to drill more wells for additional samples.
“As for cadmium, it is not used in any of the plant’s dyes and has not been found in the plant’s effluent,” DeHihns said. “Because none of the other shallow wells or the wells that supply the facility with water returned results of any concern, the company believed — and it has now been confirmed — that the samples from that well were erroneous.
The company “has agreed to install two additional permanent wells in the area of the phenanthrene and cadmium detections to take more samples,” Chambers said. “Geo-probe -- the method of testing done in December-- can result in false positives.”
The testing was done because of a potential “financial transaction,” he said.
The company told EPD “soil and groundwater sampling was conducted as part of activities associated with a potential transaction involving the owner of the site,” Chambers said.
DeHihns said Wednesday the plant is not changing hands at this time.
“The plant is not being sold. There was a possibility of a financial transaction in 2012 that prompted the tests, but it never materialized,” he said.
Public concern was heightened when it became known that King America Finishing was providing employees with bottled water to drink in lieu of tap water from the plant.
During a public hearing Tuesday regarding a draft permit for King America to continue discharging wastewater, many who own property along the Ogeechee River expressed anger and concern about the original test results and said they feared their own water could be contaminated.
“Why didn’t the EPD notify me of the dangers of cadmium and (penanthrene),” said Ben Anderson, who owns property close to King America’s site in Dover. “Y’all have no respect for us or care about our health. I am tired of the word ‘cancer’ – I want my wells checked. I want something done and I want it done fast.”
Many who have attended public meetings and who have filed civil actions against the plant have stated they feel chemicals discharged into the river through King America’s effluent are the cause of health issues as well as damages to the environment.
A fish kill in May 2011 left about 38,000 fish dead along 70 miles of the Ogeechee River downstream from the plant. A second fish kill in May 2012 yielded a fraction of that number. The official cause of death was columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress. Many have said they think that the plant’s chemical-laden effluent, paired with drought conditions and high temperatures, caused the environmental stress.
Chamber stated Wednesday that King America’s drinking water source showed no contamination during testing, although King America did state in documents provided to EPD that, as a precaution, employees were provided bottled water to drink.
However, Chambers denied reports that the EPD recommended that move.
“No, EPD did not order employees on bottled water,” he said. King America “filed a release notification with EPD when they detected the constituents during groundwater testing on the property. That notification states that employees are on bottled water.”
The move was only a precaution, DeHihns said.
“Because none of the other shallow wells or the wells that supply the facility with water returned results of any concern, the company believed — and it has now been confirmed — that the samples from that well were erroneous,” he said. “Nevertheless, in an abundance of caution, the company decided upon receipt of those results to supply bottled water until the information from that test well could be verified.”
King America “has been in communications with Georgia EPD throughout this testing process,” DeHihns said. “To verify the results from the original test well, a permanent well was drilled, and the sample from the drilled well confirmed that the original sample was erroneous.
“To further confirm the results from the new well, Georgia EPD has requested that the company drill two more test wells at other locations and have groundwater tested from those wells,” he added.
The process of drilling the additional two wells and having the water tested is currently in progress.
“While it was the company’s decision to begin supplying bottled water to employees, Georgia EPD has agreed that the company should continue to supply bottled water until this drilling and testing process is complete,” DeHihns said.
Cadmium is a metal often associated with the manufacture of batteries. It is sometimes used in dyes; however, DeHihns said Wednesday cadmium and penanthrene are “not used in any of the plant’s dyes and (have) not been found in the plant’s effluent.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, penanthrene is “a colorless, crystal-like solid but can also look yellow” and it is “used to make dyes, plastics and pesticides, explosives and drugs. It has also been used to make bile acids, cholesterol and steroids.”
Chambers said “King America Finishing operates an EPD-permitted public water
system. The water is used in the production process and for restrooms according to a summary (the company) submitted to EPD with its release notification package.”
King America collected 10 soil and 16 groundwater samples and submitted a release notification package to EPD with the sampling results on Dec. 20.
The textiles plant shut down manufacturing operations April 26 and resumed operations Monday.
“King America told us this is done for an ‘inventory adjustment’ and is not unusual,” Chambers said. “The shutdown has nothing to do with the groundwater issue.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.