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EPD: Draft Permit for King America was Studied Thoroughly, Discharge is Safe

EPD: Draft Permit for King America was Studied Thoroughly, Discharge is Safe

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division (EPD) doesn't always get high marks from the public. That might be especially true for folks who live along the Ogeechee River. But EPD's Assistant Director Jim Ussery says in the past two years, since the largest fish kill in state history was discovered, that his agency has had the health of the river in mind.

He says that continues to be true as EPD releases a new draft permit for King America Finishing. The Screven County textile plant was fined one million dollars in 2011 for dumping some chemicals without a permit. It was not officially blamed for the fish kill however. The official cause of the fish dying was linked to a bacteria. The EPD said the fish succumbed because they were stressed.

That lack of official blame has not stopped many who live along the river from expressing frustration about the discharge and what they believe is a connection to the dead fish in the river and what the company was dumping two years ago.

That frustration continued this week after the EPD released the draft permit along with several other documents, including a lengthy study called an "Antidegradation Analysis" which weighs the issue of some pollution versus economic benefits from jobs and tax benefits provided by the company.

While Ussery says the number one priority is that the discharge must meet water quality standards, he also told me that "the value that the company brings in terms of jobs and economic development to the community is certainly considered as part of the evaluation."

Still, Ussery says what people should know is that the draft permit calls for stringent limits on substances like formaldehyde in the discharge as well as a long list of monitoring requirements. "This discharge has been subject to over 500 toxicity tests since July of 2011, that's just unprecedented," Ussery said. "It's heavily monitored now. And there's additional monitoring in the new permit as well. And so we absolutely know the discharge is safe."

Ussery also said the new permit will require a third party to monitor water testing done by the plant and the state. He says results of that third party will be posted online for the public to view. He told me the draft permit calls for daily monitoring in some areas and when it comes to PH levels in the water, "continuous monitoring." There will also be an alarm system that sounds if the PH level for example, goes too high.

"We did a thorough review of the initial permit, we talked to lots of people and got their input," he says. "The Federal EPA has reviewed the permit and is satisfied this is a good permit that protects water quality."

The Antidegradation Analysis done by King America said the plant employs more than 500 people and that the production of flame retardant fabrics is an important part of the business. It said without the fire retardant lines, King America might have to consider closing the plant.

Still, opponents say it was this very chemicals from the fire retardant line that led to problems in the river. Don Stack, an attorney for the Ogeechee Riverkeeper said Tuesday he was still pouring through the documents but from what he had seen, hes's concerned about the levels of ammonia that are still allowed in the discharge. He called it "ridiculous" and said it was ammonia that helped lead to the fish kill.

Lee A. DeHihns, III sent us this statement via email regarding the new draft permit:

King America believes that the new permit proposed by the Georgia EPD responsibly protects the Ogeechee River. The anti-degradation report allows for protection of the environment while also protecting the jobs of the hundreds of Georgians who work at the King America plant. For almost 2 years, King America Finishing has cooperated fully with the Georgia EPD and taken every necessary action to not just meet, but exceed water quality standards. We look forward to continuing to manufacture our life-saving products in full compliance with environmental laws and regulations.

We cannot speculate about whether the new permit will be the subject of future legal action. We do hope that the community will support the combined efforts of King America and Georgia EPD to move forward.

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