The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation (CRF) announced Thursday that it has joined a lawsuit against the New-Indy Catawba paper mill, located about 30 miles south of Charlotte in Catawba, South Carolina, claiming the mill has violated federal pollution statutes in its waste disposal and storage practices.
According to a press release from CRF, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on the Catawba-Wateree River Basin, its representatives with the Southern Environmental Law Center have filed a motion to intervene in an existing citizen case against the mill that was filed on Feb. 13. CRF hopes its intervention secures the industrial waste cleanup stored on the banks of the Catawba River, according to the release.
In November 2020, two years after New-Indy Containerboard, LLC and New-Indy Catawba, LLC — both Kraft Group, LLC and Schwarz Partners LP subsidiaries — purchased the paper mill from Resolute FP US Inc., the new owners converted the mill from white paper to brown paper containerboard, resulting in increased production and higher emissions.
Nearby residents almost immediately began reporting an increase in air pollutants and overwhelming odors.
Although there are several active cases against New-Indy that relate to the smell emitted by the mill going back to May 2021, the case CRF is joining — Chin et al v. New-Indy Catawba LLC — concerns alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
In October 2022, testing revealed the groundwater surrounding the mill’s property contained dioxins and numerous other hazardous substances and constituents of concern, including iron, lead, benzene, trichloroethene, chlorobenzene, and other chemicals, the website states.
Additionally, sampling results indicated for the first time “a likely pathway of exposure” from several points on the property containing those substances to the nearby Catawba River. As a result, citizens filed notice of intent to sue for violations to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act.
The paper mill stores its waste in large, unlined lagoons near the banks of the Catawba River.
According to a New-Indy emissions litigation website organized by interim co-lead class counsel in the New-Indy emissions litigation, nearly 1 million North Carolina and South Carolina residents “have been and continue to be exposed to potential illness-causing contamination through breathing and being generally exposed to the contaminated air and groundwater.”
This isn’t the first time CRF has stepped up to fight for the Catawba and its inhabitants. In a state and federal court case spanning eight years fighting Duke Energy’s coal ash waste storage practices, CRF helped ensure Duke’s responsibility for a full clean-up of its sites’ coal ash pits.
Coal ash, the waste that remains after burning coal to produce electricity, contains toxic heavy metals including arsenic, boron, lead, mercury, selenium and chromium. If not managed and stored properly, those toxic contaminants can pollute streams, lakes, rivers, groundwater, drinking water and the air we breathe. Exposure to the toxins can lead to cancer, birth defects, gastrointestinal illnesses and reproductive problems.
For nearly eight years, the CRF led the charge in state and federal court to fight Duke Energy and ensure coal ash cleanup. While Duke Energy had already begun to shut down or transition its coal-burning plants before 2019, the settlement ensured that it would be responsible for a full clean-up at all of its sites.
Thursday’s release drew a comparison between the two cases: “Like the millions of tons of coal ash now being excavated from sites along the Catawba as a result of prior litigation, papermill waste is being stored in large unlined lagoons near the banks of the Catawba River. Our goal is to protect current and future users by requiring the removal of New-Indy’s waste from unlined storage near the river.”
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