Ogeechee River landings are once again closed in Bulloch and Effingham counties after reports of dead fish, skin rashes and odd water colors Wednesday.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp notified the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on Thursday after receiving complaints from four citizens about “pinkish red coloring” in wastewater discharge from King America Finishing, a textiles plant in Dover that many suspect is responsible for fish kills in May 2011 and May 2012.
She said two citizens complained of skin rashes after swimming downriver from the plant Wednesday, and fish, including a three-foot-long catfish, were found dead in the river in Effingham County.
Effingham Emergency Management Agency Director Ed Myrick closed the river landings in that county Thursday and issued a swimming and fishing advisory. Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn followed suit Thursday as a precaution, also issuing warnings against consuming fish from or swimming in the river.
“During the July 4 celebrations, the Effingham County Emergency Management Agency responded to and collected a three foot dead catfish from the Ogeechee River approximately 10 miles south of the Georgia Hwy. 119 Bridge along the Sandhill Road area,” Myrick said in a statement on the Effingham County website. He said the catfish “appeared to be the victim of the Columnaris disease by the trademark ‘blisters.’ ”
King America Finishing was not immediately available for comment Thursday evening.
Columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress, causes fish to develop red spots and white cottony patches. Many citizens have stated in public hearings that they believe chemicals in King America’s effluent is what causes the environmental stress, paired with low water and high temperatures.
No fish kills have been reported upriver from the plant, but in May 2011, about 38,000 fish died. Two months ago, dozens of fish were found dead downriver of the plant.
“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.” Waters in the Ogeechee River Basin, which runs from Ga. Hwy. 17 to the ocean, are classified as fishing, recreation, drinking water, or wild and scenic.
Wedincamp said aerial photos taken this week of the King America Finishing plant site clearly shows a holding pond with pinkish red liquids. She and several from the Ogeechee Riverkeeper Association were in the river Thursday, taking samples, photographs and other evidence.
Environmental Protection Division agents also were on the river, investigating the dead fish along with other complaints, she said.
Wedincamp sent letters to both the EPD and Environmental Protection Agency.
“The (Ogeechee River Keeper organization) has received four citizens complaints on a pinkish red color being discharged in the Ogeechee River from the King America discharge pipe,” she wrote. “Two citizens swimming in the Ogeechee River have reported skin rashes after swimming this weekend. ORK requests EPD and EPA investigate the latest citizen complaint. “Attached are photos taken from the air of the color being reported from King America Finishing facility. King (America Finishing) 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,” she said. ”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.”
“King (America Finishing) has a long history of discharges of color from its facility in violation of the state water quality standard that bars discharges, “she said. "ORK respectfully requests that the facility be held accountable for any violations.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.