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SC Paper Mill Now Facing Third Lawsuit Over Unhealthy Emissions

The New Indy Containerboard paper mill in Catawba, South Carolina.
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The New-Indy Containerboard paper mill in Catawba, South Carolina.

A South Carolina paper mill is now facing a third federal lawsuit from neighbors. The suit filed Tuesday says the plant's emissions are causing pollution and making them sick.

Like the two previous suits, this one also was filed at federal court in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and seeks class-action status and at least $5 million in damages from the company, New-Indy Containerboard. It also wants the plant shut down until the problem is fixed.

The suit was filed by Terri Kennedy of Indian Land, South Carolina. She lives seven miles northeast of the plant, which is along the Catawba River in York County. Kennedy says several times a week, the smell of rotten eggs from hydrogen sulfide and other pollutants enters her home.

Other suits have been filed by residents in York County and Charlotte.

Hydrogen sulfide is a gas formed by decaying organic matter — in this case waste from the paper mill. The federal Centers for Disease Controland Preventionsays absorbing or inhaling it can cause health problems such as nausea, headaches, delirium, convulsions, and skin and eye irritation.

The lawsuit says the problems started when New-Indy converted the mill's production from bleached paper to brown paper for containerboard last November. At that time, it began sending foul-smelling liquids into an open-air lagoon instead of an incinerator and steam stripper — a device used to remove contaminants from industrial waste.

Last month, after an order by the federal EnvironmentalProtection Agency, the company submitted a plan to clean up and contain the waste. Among other things, it says the company has restarted the steam stripper, now sends less waste to the lagoon, and hired a toxicologist to track emissions. It's also now submitting daily air-quality reports.

New-Indy is also under orders from South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control to reduce air pollution from the mill.

A spokesman for New-Indy declined to comment.

New-Indy is owned by a joint venture that includes Schwarz Partners of Indiana and Kraft Group of Massachusetts, which is controlled by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Lawyers who filed the latest suit have been involved in other environmental suits like this one. Philip Federico of Maryland and Chase Brockstedt of Delaware recently reached a $205 million settlement on behalf of Delaware residents who claimed their drinking water had been contaminated by waste water from chicken processor Mountaire Farms. Also involved in the suit are South Carolina lawyers Tommy Pope and Leon Stavrinakis.

“The interim orders by DHEC and EPA do not compensate people for the harm – past, present and future – caused by New-Indy’s wrongful actions,” Federico said in a news release.

The plant was built in 1957 by Bowater. That company went through a 2007 merger with Abitibi and a 2011 bankruptcy before reorganizing as Resolute Forest Products. Resolute sold the plant to New-Indy in 2018.

Pope said in the news release: “Many of my friends and their families made a good living at Bowater, which was a good corporate citizen to all of us. Unfortunately, what we are dealing with now at New-Indy is not what we grew up with. This is not your Daddy’s Bowater; this is out-of-state owners denying responsibility. The ongoing damage to our air, our water and our health must be addressed.”

The lawyers are planning a public meetingabout the New-Indy situation June 16 at 6:30 p.m. in Rock Hill.

See the latest lawsuit below.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.