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South Carolina paper mill says it 'let the community down' with emissions

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

The manager of the New Indy Containerboard paper mill in Catawba, S.C., says the plant let down the community when it produced elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide in 2021, creating a foul odor that sickened residents and permeated homes and buildings in York County and the surrounding area.

Mill manager Tony Hobson made the comments during a presentation Friday to reporters and members of a "Community Engagement Group" formed by the company.

"We let the community down from an overall standpoint," Hobson said. "We ran into some issues at start up, and that ended up cascading into more than what we had hoped for."

Hobson said the elevated emission levels were partly due to poor maintenance of the plant's wastewater treatment system and predated New Indy's involvement with the facility.

New Indy acquired the plant from Resolute Forest Products in December 2018, and converted it from producing bleached paper to brown paper in early 2021.

During the conversion process, Hobson said, the mill produced extra waste. That, combined with the poorly-maintained wastewater treatment system, produced the excess emissions and rotten egg odor.

Since then, Hobson said the mill has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to reduce emissions and monitor air quality around the plant.

Corrective actions have included improving the plant's wastewater treatment system and installing a new carbon filter. The plant has also begun using a steam stripper again.

The company says on-site monitors have not detected any excessive hydrogen sulfide since September, and hydrogen sulfide emissions are now well below limits set by the EPA.

New Indy is still facing multiple lawsuits and a proposed $1.1 million fine from the EPA over the emissions. A judge would have to approve the fine and the EPA's proposed pollution control plan for the mill.

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

At Friday's presentation, Hobson also said the mill is 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.

Hobson said the plant was working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on the plan. They hoped to come up with a way to store the sludge on site and seal it off so it won't seep into groundwater or the nearby Catawba River.

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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