STATESBORO — After recent violations regarding on-site discharge, a Screven County textiles plant is making changes to rectify the matter.
Longleaf, formerly known as King America Finishing, was found in violation of a 2013 consent order that mandated strict guidelines after a massive fish kill along the Ogeechee River that was linked to the plant. Although studies did not place direct blame on the plant for the 38,000 fish that died along 70 miles of the river downstream from the plant in Dover, Environmental Protection Division investigations led to the discovery of several violations regarding management of discharge and other environmental issues.
The official cause of the fish kill was columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by and exacerbated by environmental conditions.
In 2014, Longleaf was found to be in violation of on-site effluent storage and discharge, said Emily Markesteyn, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s executive director.
The violations did not affect the river, and all effluent tests regarding the plant’s discharge into the river were found to be in compliance, she said.
However, the plant’s discharge into its on-site containment facilities was found to have high levels of toxicity and fecal coliform.
The “EPD fined the facility $150,000 and is requiring them to take corrective action to resolve toxicity and fecal coliform issues in its effluent,” Markesteyn said in a statement.
The plant’s “sanitary” facilities always have been connected to its discharge system, with effluent eventually contained on-site or discharged into the river, she said. However, a spokeswoman for the plant said Friday that Longleaf is already in the process of switching to a septic system.
“We are in the process of installing a new septic system. We are currently in the permit phase,” said Barbara Haaksma, vice president for corporate marketing and communications at Milliken, Longleaf’s parent company.
Milliken is targeting the end of April to complete the new septic system, according to Haaksma. Milliken purchased King America Finishing Inc., last summer.
Markesteyn said Longleaf has been “very open and cooperative with us.” The corrective actions taken by the plant are appropriate, and “they are working with our experts to find ways to solve” the issues, she said.
While on-site effluent is not discharged into the river, its proximity to the river could pose environmental problems if untreated, she said.
Haaksma said the company is investing $5 million into the plant to bring it into compliance. The company signed another consent order with the Georgia EPD this week regarding actions it is taking to correct and prevent violations.
“Milliken, as owner of (Longleaf), is committed to the highest environmental standards,” said Chip Winter, senior vice president and general manager of manufacturing for Milliken. “We are actively engaged with EPD and local leaders to continue to protect the Ogeechee River.”
Markesteyn said conditions in the river remained in compliance with the terms of King America’s EPD permit throughout the period covered in the consent order.
“The improved permit was a major component of the settlement of a lawsuit Ogeechee Riverkeeper brought against King America for violations of the Clean Water Act” following a series of violations found after the fish kill, which occurred in 2011, she said. “The settlement, which was finalized in early 2014, dictated lower discharge limits for, among other things, sulfides and a numerical limit for fecal coliform.”
Longleaf, Markesteyn added, is being held accountable for its actions, “due in large part to the terms of the new permit, which are much stricter and more specific than either the previous permit or the one proposed in 2013 by the state of Georgia. In addition, there is much more open communication and transparency between Milliken, EPD and the public.”
The company is also required to monitor and report water quality conditions in the Ogeechee River, none of which showed violations over the past year, she said.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization also is keeping tabs on the water quality of the river through in-house and volunteer water testing, she said.