Community unable to fish, paddle Georgia’s Altamaha River near polluting pulp mill

Clearly visible both at the river’s surface and from space, the pulp mill’s polluted discharge often causes a dark, malodorous plume to extend miles down Georgia's Altamaha River. (© Google Earth)

A decision is expected within 30 days of closing arguments presented last week in a state administrative hearing over a pulp mill’s visible, foul-smelling pollution of the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia.

After years of operating under an outdated permit, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) renewed Rayonier Advanced Materials’ pollution discharge permit in December 2015. SELC along with GreenLaw and Stack & Associates filed a petition on behalf of Altamaha Riverkeeper, challenging that the permit does not go far enough to uphold state water quality standards for odor, color, and turbidity.

The Jesup, Georgia mill continues to discharge 50 to 60 million gallons of effluent per day into the river, which is made up of complex organic chemicals that often cause a dark, stinking trail to extend down the river for miles.

The two week hearing included a site visit, and testimony from water quality experts as well as several members of the community, who affirmed that the smell and color interferes with fishing, paddling or swimming in the vicinity of the polluted discharge.

According to expert Neil McCubbin, who has 50 years of experience in the pulp and paper industry and has worked in more than 100 pulp and paper mills worldwide, Rayonier Advanced Materials ranks in the bottom 10% of kraft pulp mills in terms of the environmental quality of its discharge.

“Upstream pollution not only impacts the health of the Altamaha River and important tributaries, but the commercial and recreational interests of the community as well,” said SELC Staff Attorney Megan Hinkle. “We hope the Office of State Administrative Hearings will be responsive to the water quality issues raised in the petition and urge EPD to enact stronger protections for this great river.”

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