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EPA issues emergency order for New Indy Containerboard to fix odor in S.C., New Indy responds

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 4:40 PM EDT
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CATAWBA, S.C. (WBTV) -The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking legal action and has issued an emergency order for New Indy Containerboard to fix a prolonged odor that has plagued multiple counties in South Carolina over the past four months.

Environmental Director Myra Reece made the announcement Thursday morning. Reece says the EPA order tells New Indy the company “has to reduce their hydrogen sulfide levels at the fence line of the facility.”

The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says the agency is taking this action under the Clean Air Act. New Indy has only one day to reply “upon receipt” which should be Thursday.

New Indy, however, says the EPA order references information that differs from their findings to date and “underscores the critical importance of sharing data and working together to an expeditious solution,”

The company also says they conducted a comprehensive review and retooling of their waste water treatment systems.

“We have kept EPA and DHEC fully informed of our efforts and have offered to share our findings. New-Indy has and will continue to work cooperatively with local, state and federal authorities to resolve the issues swiftly,” part of a response statement from New Indy says.

The order demands New Indy Containerboard to reduce emissions of hydrogen sulfide from their pulp and paper mill in Catawba, S.C., to meet specific limits as monitored at the fence line. Simultaneously, EPA sent the company a formal request for information under CAA Section 114 requiring the company to perform air monitoring in the communities surrounding the facility. EPA is also initiating its own air monitoring around the greater Rock Hill area extending into North Carolina this week in response to requests from state, local and tribal agencies.

Together, these actions are intended to reduce and prevent future public health and welfare risks associated with hydrogen sulfide emissions.

“The steps taken by EPA today are necessary to address levels of hydrogen sulfide that have impacted residents along the North Carolina and South Carolina border, and Catawba Indian Nation (CIN),” said EPA Acting Region 4 Administrator John Blevins. “The joint efforts of CIN, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC), the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), and the Mecklenburg County Air Quality (MCAQ) emphasize the agencies’ full commitment to restoring the area’s air quality.”

Upon receipt of the Section 303 order Thursday, New Indy Containerboard is required to immediately begin taking steps to reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions to meet specific limits, as monitored at the fence line, of 600 parts per billion over a rolling 30-minute period and 70 parts per billion over a rolling seven-day average.

The facility is required to install three fence line monitors to ensure that it is meeting the limits.

Under the order, the company is required to submit a draft plan to meet these limits no later than May 18, followed by a final plan no later than May 24, and comply with the final plan within five days after EPA approval of the company’s final plan.

Additionally, the order requires that New Indy Containerboard immediately notify EPA of any hydrogen sulfide exceedance, submit daily documentation of the previous 24 hours of monitoring data, and submit summary reports every seven days documenting the results of the continuous monitoring.

On May 14, New Indy responded to the EPA’s mandatory order. The statement came from Tony Hobson, Mill Manager at New-Indy Catawba LLC.

“New-Indy is continuing to take steps to determine the source and resolve the issues relating to the odor emanating from our plant. Our company strives to be a good member of the community. We are committed to the safety of our 420 local employees and the surrounding area; protecting the environment; promoting economic vitality; and charitable giving to support great local causes. Yesterday, New-Indy received notice of an order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the odor problems reported over the past several months. The EPA order is similar to the order issued last week by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). We are reviewing both orders and intend to comply with both in good faith as soon as we are reasonably and safely able. Since March, New-Indy has been working to determine the source of the reported odors. We conducted a comprehensive review and retooling of our waste water treatment systems, including restarting the stripper and restoring the aeration stabilization basin, and installed air quality monitors on our property that continuously test air quality levels and collect meteorological information such as wind speed and direction. Preliminary data from those devices indicate that our activities are having a positive effect. The EPA order references information that differs from our findings to date. This underscores the critical importance of sharing data and working together to an expeditious solution, to which we are fully committed. We have kept EPA and DHEC fully informed of our efforts and have offered to share our findings. New-Indy has and will continue to work cooperatively with local, state and federal authorities to resolve the issues swiftly. New-Indy is committed to being a responsible corporate citizen and an asset to the region, as evidenced by the multi-hundred million dollar investment we made during COVID that saved 400+ manufacturing jobs and created 1,000 construction jobs. Our employees live and work here, and we are eager and determined to get this right,” the statement from New Indy reads.

On May 7, 2021, SC DHEC ordered New Indy Containerboard to submit a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) for outdoor air quality monitoring both on and off the facility property. Details of SC DHEC’s order can be found here.

Under EPA’s CAA Section 114 information request, the company is required to also submit a QAPP to EPA, and EPA will collaborate with SC DHEC on the siting of the monitors in off-site locations in the community.

The EPA also included how the smell has been affecting people living in the affected areas. It states there are over 600 complaints of nausea and headaches linked to the smell and over 300 complaints of the smell irritating your noses, throats and eyes.

People living in the area were not the only ones feeling symptoms. The EPA says the agency’s and DHEC’s field crews all experienced symptoms of hydrogen sulfide. A report in the order says teams had symptoms “where the highest hydrogen sulfide concentrations were measured.” The EPA’s strict order is just what people living near the plant say they needed.

”I’m encouraged by the actions of DHEC and the EPA,” says Jean Fritchley, who lives in Indian Land. “My hope is that New Indy acts in accordance.”

Since mid-April, EPA has had technical teams on the ground in the Rock Hill, S.C. area conducting an investigation into residents’ complaints about air quality.

The issuance of this order and information request represent the next steps EPA and their partners have taken to identify and control the source of the hydrogen sulfide emissions.

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