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Suit filed against King America
Plaintiffs claim plant caused fish kill
060711 FISH KILL MEETING 02 web
Bulloch County resident Jimmy Hayes addresses a panel representing state agencies involved in investigating the fish kill with his concerns about pollution during Tuesday's public meeting at Effingham County Middle School. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Chronology — Ogeechee River Fish Kill
    May 20-June 7, 2011


    Friday, May 20
     • EPD Division Duty Officer (DDO) notified of fish kill at 6:38 p.m. following initial call to Georgia Emergency Management Agency Operations Center at 6:18 p.m.
     • EPD DDO speaks with citizen about his information concerning 20 dead fish
     • EPD DDO speaks with DNR Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) representative at 7:02 p.m. to discuss upstream and downstream reports of dead fish. WRD representative advises they will be back in the river in the morning to expand investigation
     • EPD DDO attempts contact with King America Finishing (KAF) emergency contacts at 7:17 p.m., 7:22 p.m. and 7:28 p.m., however unsuccessful
     • WRD observes dead fish at Hwy 301
     • Dissolved oxygen (DO) measurements indicate sufficient oxygen in river
     • Fishermen observed dead fish all week
     • EPD called King America Finishing (KAF) emergency contacts at 7:15 p.m.; left voice message

     Saturday, May 21
     • River monitoring by WRD (DO, temperature, pH, conductivity)
     • EPD DDO attempts contact with KAF again at 9:37 a.m., no answer
     • EPD DDO contacts Coastal District manager and discusses KAF facility
     • EPD DDO contacted by KAF representative at 11:58 a.m. and discussed facility operations
     • EPD DDO contacted by WRD representative and discussed expanded scope of fish kill
     • EPD DDO contacted Emergency Response Network (ERN) manager at 1:00 p.m. to discuss situation
     • EPD DDO calls National Response Center at 1:16 p.m. to file report of fish kill
     • EPD DDO calls EPA phone duty officer at 1:20 p.m. to discuss situation. EPA decision to send Region IV responder with sampling resources
     • EPD DDO receives call from WRD representative at 1:50 p.m. discussing extended scope of kill
     • EPD DDO, now in First Responder capacity, travels to area and discusses sightings, observations with Screven County EMA director, EPA responder, DNR LE representatives and WRD between the hours of 2:58 p.m. to 10 p.m. Potential for possible fishing/swimming advisory to be issued discussed. Dead fish observed 40 river miles downstream of KAF
     • KAF inspected treatment plant; no problems found

    Sunday, May 22
    • At 8 a.m. EPA sampling of affected areas begins and continues through 7 p.m.
    • 1 p.m. Unified Command meeting held and it was the decision of the UC to issue an advisory concerning no fishing/swimming in the Ogeechee
    • ERN Manager communicates with EPD assistant director and EPD Communications director concerning advisory issuance
    • At 4:57 p.m. EPD Communications director issues public notice of EPD swimming/fishing advisory for Ogeechee River

    Monday, May 23
    • EPD inspected facility
    • No evidence of catastrophic release of chemicals or untreated wastewater
    • Dead fish observed farther south — at Hwy 80 crossing
    • WRD deployed two (2) teams of fisheries biologists
    • EPA finishes sampling (water, sediment and fish tissue)
    • EPD ERN First responder acting as Incident Commander continues to coordinate sampling activities and additional river observation teams and facilitates daily Unified Command briefings

    Tuesday, May 24
    • Leading edge of fish kill at Hwy 204 crossing
    • Dead mussels observed upriver from Hwy 301 crossing
    • US Coast Guard reports no dead fish at Richmond Hill area
    • EPD ERN first responder acting as incident commander continues to coordinate sampling activities and additional on river observation teams and facilitates daily Unified Command briefings

    Wednesday, May 25
    • Four (4) WRD and two (2) EPD teams deployed to river for fish survey
    • Fish death rate appears to be slowing
    • EPD ERN first responder acting as incident commander continues to coordinate sampling activities and additional on river observation teams and facilitates daily Unified Command briefings.

    Thursday, May 26
    • Continue river monitoring by WRD and EPD
    • Alligator carcasses sent for analysis
    • Columnaris disease identified and public notified of such
    • EPD ERN first responder acting as incident commander continues to coordinate sampling activities and additional on river observation teams and facilitates daily Unified Command briefings

    Friday, May 27
    • Water and sediment samples reviewed and indicate no evidence of threat to human health
    • Swim advisory lifted
    • At the 1 p.m. Unified Command briefing, as per ERN Standard Operating procedures, it was determined that this incident is no longer in the emergency response phase and lead in this fish kill investigation was transferred to EPD Coastal District Office

    May 28-30
    • Weekend; EPD on-call to respond as needed
    • Memorial Day Holiday; no calls received

    May 31
    • EPD's Trend Monitoring Team takes further samples of the river at 6 river sampling sites.
    • After not discovering a catastrophic release to this point, EPD re-inspected KAF for a more detailed look and set up samplers, gathered records, observed the landfill, observed the stormwater outfalls and the wastewater treatment system including the lagoons
    • WRD conducts fish and mussel survey of river.

    June 1
    • Dead/dying fish observed on Canoochee River at GA144 crossing; WRD reports the dead fish to be from from tidal action from the Ogeechee
    • EPD concludes collection of water samples at KAF wastewater discharge.
    • EPD holds a conference call with EMA officials to iscuss issues and concerns regarding the fishkill
    • EPD continues to interview persons seeking possible leads

    June 2
    • EPD again continues inspections at KAF including the wastewater treatment system, has started looking at floor drains as a possible source and again inspects the lagoons at the facility
    • WRD conducts fish survey of the river

    June 3
    • Fish tissue results reviewed and the fish consumption advisory is lifted
    • EPD has a joint conference call with local EMA officials to discuss issues and concerns
    • EPD inspects KAF lagoons, floor drains, conducted a shoreline survey, inspected the wastewater system, interviewed the operator and requested more records

    June 4-5
    • Weekend; no calls received

    June 6
    • EPD receives more records pertaining to KAF for review
    • Preparations are made for the public meeting Tuesday evening

    June 7
    • Public meeting at Effingham County Middle School

    US EPA data for water, sediment and fish tissue sample results is available at http://epaosc.org/ogeecheeriverfishkill

A class action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Fulton County Superior Court alleges King America Finishing, a textiles plant in Screven County, is responsible for a massive fish kill that left more than 33,000 fish rotting on the Ogeechee River banks last month.
    It also alleges chemicals discharged by the plant caused illness in some who swam in  the river following the discharge.
    As of Tuesday, Marietta attorney Edwin Hallman Jr. listed three plaintiffs in the suit. During a public meeting Tuesday night at Effingham County Middle School, he invited others affected by the alleged chemical spill to join the suit.
    Hallman confronted Environmental Protection Division officials, asking questions about their investigation into King America Finishing.
    “Have any employees of King America Finishing been put under oath and deposed?” he asked. The EPD’s answer was no, they have not.
    “I’d ask that be done immediately,” Hallman said. EPD spokesmen asked that he submit the request in writing.
    The plaintiffs listed in the suit filed Tuesday are riverfront land owners Ben H. Anderson and Parker Freeman, both of whom own land on the Ogeechee adjacent to the textile plant property.
    The third plaintiff, Adam Bath, a Statesboro resident, suffered illness including breathing problems after having swam in the river over the weekend after the alleged chemical spill.
    The suit lists King America President Michael A. Beasley and plant manager Billy T. Parrish as defendants. Beasley, who has said he is the spokesperson for the company, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday and Wednesday.
    Hallman states in the suit that King America Finishing is “the only large industrial facility with significant discharge of wastewater into the Ogeechee River in the area of Dover, Ga.”
    Both Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp and Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division Supervisor Tim Barrett said they traced the source of the fish kill to an area within 50 yards downstream of the plant’s discharge pipe. Both said no dead fish were found north of the plant.
    The suit points out that King America uses chemicals in its fabric processes that were also found in high concentration in water samples taken from the river near the discharge pipe. “On or about the week beginning Monday, May 16, 2011, upon information and belief, KAF (King America Finishing) … either knowingly and purposefully, or unknowingly and negligently, released into the Ogeechee River an unknown quantity of caustic chemical agents and other contaminants from its manufacturing plant located adjacent to the Ogeechee River in Dover, Ga.,” the lawsuit reads.
    The suit alleges the chemicals caused the fish kill, which Barrett said spans about 15 different fish species. Mussels and possibly alligators and other wildlife were affected, he said.
    Freeman and Anderson complained through the suit that they are unable to “enjoy and utilize their property near the river” due to the chemical discharge. Bath complains through the suit that he swam in the river prior to EPD warnings, which were not issued until late Sunday, days after the fish kill was first reported, and suffers personal injuries “including … burning of the lungs, resulting in pain and breathing difficulties.”
    The suit seeks others who “have been exposed, directly or indirectly, with the waters of the Ogeechee River that had been contaminated by the (chemical) release,” as well as property owners affected by the alleged release.
    The lawsuit also states King America Finishing, through continued release of chemicals in wastewater, poses a “continuing nuisance,” negligence and trespass, as Georgia law states land owner’s property extends to the low water mark in the river.
    
    Citizens call for closure
    Land owners, fishermen and many who simply love the Ogeechee River gathered Tuesday night to pose questions to EPD and DNR officials about the fish kill.
    Several appeared angry and called out demands to close King America Finishing, in spite of EPD officials telling them there was no solid proof that the textiles treatment plant had done anything wrong.
    However, the investigation continues, with EPD and Environmental Protection Agency officials still looking at the plant’s wastewater treatment system and at records.
    “We’ve done a pretty exhaustive search for a catastrophic release of chemicals into the river,” said Bruce Foisy, with the EPD’s Coastal District office. Pointing at a map of the King America Finishing site, he said “That’s where our focus has been.”
    An inspection May 23 revealed no violations, but investigators returned to look more, he said. “We’ve spent days ... to determine whether a release has been made,” he said. “We’ve checked floor drains and interviewed staff, looked at Jackson Branch (a stream that flows through the property) and looked for pipe discharge. We found nothing.”
    They’re still looking for answers, he said.
    Ogeechee Riverkeeper director Emily Markenstyn asked EPD officials whether King America adjusts its discharge according to the river’s water flow. EPD spokesmen said the plant’s discharge permit had been extended in 2005, but did not answer the question.
    Wedincamp read a portion of Georgia law that cites color (dye) being discharged into the water is a violation, then said King America “is not required to monitor for color.”  Some reported the plant’s discharge has discolored the river and its banks near the pipe.
    She asked why EPD officials did not test the waters Friday when they first learned of the fish kill, stating her offices took samples within 12 hours of the kill’s reporting. She also called for changes in the EPD policy of alerting the public of possible dangers, adding that hundreds of people swam in the river in the two days between the kill being reported and the bans on swimming and eating fish were posted.
    Several citizens commented on the EPD’s lifting bans before they had solid answers on what caused the fish kill and what had been released into the river.
    “We said the water was safe for swimming. We didn’t presume people would be dumb enough to swim with a bunch of dead fish,” said EPD spokesman Burt Langley. This comment was followed by an angry rumble from the crowd.
    A timeline provided by the EPD to show its response to the fish kill showed it took hours for government officials to reach a King America spokesperson. Phone calls to the plant’s emergency contact number went unanswered between 7:17 p.m. Friday, May 20, and 11:58 a.m. Saturday, May 21, a span of about 17 hours.
    It also shows the fish kill was first reported to the EPD at 6:18 p.m. Friday, May 20, and although hundreds of dead fish were found south of the plant’s discharge pipe, it was 4:57 p.m. Sunday  - almost 47 hours later - before officials called for a ban on swimming.
    
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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