‘Still being poisoned’: Group protests at S.C. Governor’s mansion over lack response of toxic air emissions, health impact from New Indy Plant

According to the group “Carolinians for Ethics & Accountability,” a peaceful protest has been organized for 10 a.m. outside the governor’s home on Richland Street in Columbia, S.C.
People gathered outside the New Indy Containerboard plant in Catawba, S.C. to protest after a foul smell has been polluting the air for months.
Published: Sep. 18, 2021 at 2:27 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - A group of protesters rallied outside of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s mansion Sunday morning pushing for a response to the stench coming from the New Indy Plant in South Carolina.

According to the group “Carolinians for Ethics & Accountability,” a peaceful protest was organized outside the governor’s home on Richland Street in Columbia, S.C.

The protest was initiated by a group of people who live close to the New Indy papermill in Catawba, in York County.

They say they are protesting because the plant is poisoning them with hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and other emissions. The plant makes parts for amazon boxes.

“There’s like a fecal toxic odor that is going throughout a 30-mile radius,” organizer Kerri Bishop said. “I mean we’re talking all the way into North Carolina and Charlotte. So, that’s how we noticed it and started learning what it is and what it does and the health effects of it.”

Organizers say the protest is because the governor “has had a lack of response to the toxic air emissions we are being poisoned with at the hands of New-Indy in Catawba, SC.”

Protesters say they have experienced side effects from the emissions such as nose bleeds, headaches, nausea, sinus issues and sore throat.

They want the mill to slow down production, and that would immediately slow the issue down.

Then, they want the mill to change its production so that it doesn’t emit harmful toxins.

“We’re hoping that they reduce production because they would lower emissions right away while they fix the issues that they have,” Bishop said. “Some group members are here and we’re here because the Governor doesn’t want to say anything and doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s an issue.”

The stench can be smelled in southern Mecklenburg County and Union County, as well as Catawba, Clover, Chester, Fort Mill, Indian Land, Lake Wylie, Lancaster, Tega Cay and York in South Carolina.

“To date, (Gov. McMaster) has only made one tweet back in May, that we have seen,” organizers say. “Governor McMaster oversees SC DHEC and claims to put his trust in them, but SC DHEC has admitted they don’t have the experience to handle this which is why they called upon the EPA. It has been over eight months and we are still being poisoned multiple times per week. Enough is enough.”'

Related coverage:

EPA investigating emissions increase caused by ‘black liquor’ overflow at New Indy facility in South Carolina

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

People affected by New Indy Containerboard are ‘fighting back’ with different efforts

S.C. lawmakers scheduled to visit New Indy facility

It has been several months since residents of York, Lancaster, Union and Mecklenburg counties in S.C. and North Carolina first complained about the foul smell they said is coming from the New Indy facility.

Early this month, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed it is investigating an increase in emissions at the S.C. paper mill facility.

EPA officials said they were aware of increased emissions and were in the process of gathering additional information.

According to representatives from New Indy, the increased emissions were a result of an outage on a recovery boiler causing a tank to overflow for 24 minutes. The overflow liquid is what they call “black liquor.”

Ahead of Friday’s visit, Johnson said the EPA and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control are working with New Indy to determine the exact cause and the “processes that failed leading to the issue.

According to Johnson, the EPA director said he believes the issues at New Indy will be corrected, but that it was going to take time.

“I am encouraged by New Indy’s engagement, and believe they are beginning to move in the right direction. That being said, there is much work to be done,” Johnson said.

Currently, there are two active orders and three lawsuits filed against New Indy Containerboard in Catawba, South Carolina.

WBTV has talked to people on the ground a lot lately and they say they do not feel like things are getting much better despite the EPA’s involvement and the lawsuits. They think it is getting worse.

The reporting data backs that up. The Department of Health and Environmental Control says they have been getting an increase in reports in the last two weeks. They have gotten over more than 1,500 reports in the last two weeks. There’s been a total of 25,000 reports since DHEC started taking them.

The agency also says New Indy has not exceeded the allowable amount of hydrogen sulfide levels. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency extended its order saying there have been lower hydrogen sulfide levels so there could be a possible long-term solution.

That is where the three lawsuits come in. The lawsuits are trying to push New Indy to change its waste removal process through operational and system updates, but a few days ago, New Indy submitted a motion to dismiss telling the judge none of the lawsuits have a strong enough case against them.

For Kerry Bishop, who lives nine miles away from New Indy, this process has been frustrating.

“They bought this plant more than three years ago and they knew what the state of the lagoons were then. They are just not doing what they are supposed to do,” says Bishop.

Bishop and hundreds of others are taking those frustrations and turning them into action. Working outside in Kerry Bishop’s neighborhood is not always an option with the nasty smell coming from New Indy Containerboard still lingering.

“It’s just sad that they’re not…I don’t feel like they’re doing anything,” says Bishop.

Bishop and a group of thousands of people online are banding together. They have made flyers, sent emails and collaborated in a Facebook group with more than 3000 people.

“All of it is important and we’ll find other avenues Every day something’s changing,” she says.

These neighbors are reaching out to everyone who they think could make a difference in this fight. The NFL, David Tepper, Governor Henry McMaster--you name it, they have probably been contacted. Bishop says formal letters are going out to even more people soon.

“We have to prove to have more than their employees,” she says. “We have to have enough to prove to a judge that this is a serious issue that’s affecting everyone.”

Bishop says she hears from the company every now and again. WBTV reached out to New Indy for comment on her efforts. No one got back to the station, but Bishop says the group is still full steam ahead until the work is done.

“We’re kind of an added step in there to kind of keep on them and say we’re not going anywhere, we care. We’re still here we’re not going anywhere we care. We don’t have any time to sit around and be contaminated,” says Bishop.

South Carolina representatives and others visited the New Indy Containerboard paper mill facility Friday afternoon.

Those scheduled for the tour were S.C. Rep. Ralph Norman, S.C. State Sen. Mike Johnson and S.C. State Sen. Wes Climer, joining New Indy Catawba representatives.

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