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SC paper mill fined $130,000 after stench sickens residents

The New-Indy Containerboard plant in Catawba, S.C.
Nick de la Canal
The New-Indy Containerboard plant in Catawba, S.C.

South Carolina regulators say the New Indy Containerboard Plant in York County must pay a $129,360 fine for wastewater violations that may have produced noxious fumes in 2021 smelled by thousands of residents for miles around.

The fine was announced in a consent order published Thursday afternoon and comes after the U.S. Environmental Agency in January fined the plant $1.1 millionover illegal emissions.

In addition, the plant will be required to take steps to correct wastewater violations in the coming months and submit to monthly inspections. The plant must also install a new stripper to minimize future odors, according to a separate letter sent by state regulators.

The plant's manager, Tony Hobson, previously told reporters in January the plant had "let the community down" when it produced excess hydrogen sulfide emissions as the plant was switching from making beached paper to brown containerboard from September 2020 to February 2021

"We ran into some issues at start up, and that ended up cascading into more than what we had hoped for," he said.

Hobson also said the elevated emission levels were partly due to poor maintenance of the plant's wastewater treatment system by the plant's previous owner, Resolute Forest Products. New Indy acquired the plant from Resolute in December 2018.

When the mill switched to making containerboard, Hobson said, it created extra waste. That, combined with the poorly-maintained wastewater treatment system, produced the excess emissions and rotten egg odor that was reported by tens of thousands of residents in York County and the surrounding region.

Since then, Hobson said the plant had worked with state and federal regulators to improve the wastewater treatment system, install a new carbon filter and resume its use of its original steam stripper.

At the time, the plant was still developing a plan for what to do with millions of cubic yards of sludge contaminated with a cancer-causing compound called dioxin on the site.

Thursday's consent order gives the plant until June 30, 2023, to remove all "legacy sludge" from the site's equalization basin. The plant will also be required to decrease the amount of sludge in its Aerated Stabilization Basin.

Schwartz Partners of Indiana and Kraft Group of Massachusetts, controlled by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, own New Indy.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal