S.C. health leaders urge EPA to quickly take action against New Indy over odor issues

Once EPA makes its determination, DHEC says it will issue an enforcement order to the facility - an order that could take stronger actions that go beyond the measures of any federal decree.
Health leaders are urging the EPA to quickly address and take action against New Indy Containerboard over the odor dilemma in South Carolina
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 10:45 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2022 at 7:01 PM EDT
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YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - Health leaders are urging the EPA to quickly address and take action against New Indy Containerboard over the odor dilemma in South Carolina that sparked thousands of complaints against the paper mill.

It is a story we have been following for more than a year now and the issue at the heart of it still remains unresolved: the rotten egg smell coming from New Indy Containerboard. Thousands of neighbors living nearby have lodged formal complaints and in December the EPA proposed a $1.1 million fine if the paper mill did not comply with Clean Air Act standards.

One of those neighbors is Betty Rankin.

”It’s an emotional roller coaster,” she says ”I’m not only a prisoner in my home. But a prisoner on my own land.”

The warden in her eyes, New Indy Containerboard. She tells WBTV she has been unable to ride her horse Poncho and carries a gas mask anytime she is outside. When she starts to get a tingle in her nose she quickly puts the mask on.

“Life is worth more than a few dollars. If they want to operate here they should adhere to clean air and clean water,” she says.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says they continue to work with state and federal leaders to address the negative impact the New Indy Containerboard facility in Catawba is having on the wellbeing of the people who live in the area.

To more quickly mitigate the odor issues stemming from operations at New Indy, DHEC is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to expedite the process of determining whether it will proceed with a Consent Decree with New Indy.

Related: EPA proposes $1.1 million penalty, robust improvements for New Indy over S.C. odor dilemma

The EPA lodged a proposed consent decree and says New Indy has agreed to robust relief designed to prevent hydrogen sulfide (H2S) concentrations above levels that endanger people’s health from the company’s Catawba, South Carolina paper mill.

New Indy would also pay a civil penalty of $1,100,000.

The proposed Consent Decree was filed on Dec. 30, 2021, and the public comment period ended on March 11, 2022.

Related: EPA hears concerns on New Indy’s odor, chemical exposure before deciding plan of action

Once EPA makes its determination, DHEC says it will issue an enforcement order to the facility - an order that could take stronger actions that go beyond the measures of any federal decree.

“We value the important relationship we’ve built with the EPA after decades of working together on key environmental issues in our state, and we’ll continue to maintain that essential cooperation in the future, but right now South Carolinians deserve expedient, effective action in regard to New Indy,” DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said. “For too long, residents of North and South Carolina who live near the facility have been enduring undesirable levels of odors that are impacting their quality of lives. It is imperative that a decisive action be taken to end the harm being done to the community.”

Tensions were high Tuesday night at a meeting in South Carolina with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

WBTV asked DHEC why the agency is waiting for the EPA to do another order. DHEC says they will issue a supplement order that would be based on what the EPA decides to put into the decree. DHEC says both orders will have to include “explicit maintenance, operation, and anti-backsliding requirements to help address the issues.”

WBTV asked EPA for comment about the urgent call from DHEC. They said:

“EPA appreciates the partnership we continue to have with SC DHEC and takes very seriously the health and safety of North and South Carolinians. The public comment period for the proposed CD ended on March 11 and EPA, in coordination with DOJ, are moving swiftly to thoroughly review and consider the comments received during this period. EPA takes the surrounding communities’ ongoing concerns very seriously and intends to hold New Indy accountable for any other violations of law or enforceable commitments.”

WBTV reached out to New Indy as well. The company’s spokesperson never got back to us.

DHEC first began receiving complaints from residents in York and Lancaster counties and bordering areas of North Carolina in Jan. 2021.

The agency said it quickly implemented an investigation with the assistance of EPA that identified New Indy as a significant contributor to the odors and, since then, the agency has taken extensive efforts to require the facility to alter operations and mitigate the odors.

These efforts include an Order to Correct Undesirable Levels of Air Contaminants issued by DHEC on May 7, 2021.

This order remains outstanding and will ultimately be replaced by an enforcement order that will assure the sources of the undesirable levels of air contaminants are identified and New Indy reduces its emissions that are impacting the surrounding communities.

DHEC officials say it is important that the final EPA Consent Decree and the final DHEC enforcement order include explicit maintenance, operation, and anti-backsliding requirements.

Related: A look inside: New Indy Containerboard works to honor EPA order, address S.C. odor dilemma

DHEC says it will continue to fully utilize its authority pursuant to the S.C. Pollution Control Act to ensure all necessary corrective action is required of New Indy.

This would include measures set forth in the proposed EPA Consent Decree but may also include any necessary measures identified by DHEC that are not included in the proposed EPA Consent Decree.

DHEC officials say they have investigated potential risks to groundwater and the nearby Catawba River posed by the facility and has not identified any concerns.

“Both the EPA and DHEC remain committed to holding New Indy accountable for any violations of law. While the agency’s focus at this time is on requiring any necessary corrective action to mitigate odors, DHEC will work collaboratively with EPA to investigate potential violations of the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws,” a press release read.

DHEC officials say they iare close to resolving enforcement action against New Indy for violations related to its wastewater system.

DHEC is urging EPA to expedite their determination of New Indy’s compliance with the Clean Air Act.

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