Pulp mill’s pollution discharge permit falls short of Georgia water quality standards

Designated by The Nature Conservancy as one of the 75 "Last Great Places" in the world, the Altamaha River takes in tens of millions of gallons per day of visible, foul-smelling effluent, shown here discharging from the Rayonier plant in Jesup, Ga. (© Altamaha Riverkeeper)

Georgia conservation groups are challenging the pollution discharge permit recently granted to Rayonier Performance Fibers LLC, claiming that the permit’s limits on odor, color, and turbidity do not go far enough to uphold state water quality standards.

The Jesup-based pulp mill discharges up to 50 to 60 million gallons of discolored and foul smelling effluent into the river each day. Made up of complex organic chemicals that decrease oxygen levels in the water, the discharge often causes a dark, malodorous plume down the river at times large enough to be visible from space. Fishermen have complained that it renders fish inedible for many miles downstream. 

SELC, Stack & Associates, and GreenLaw have filed a petition on behalf of Altamaha Riverkeeper in response to Rayonier’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) in late December.

While the current permit includes some limits concerning the pulp mill’s discharge, the groups are urging EPD to enact more stringent limits, and that measurements for color, odor, and turbidity must include stricter standards in order to comply with the Clean Water Act.

“Georgia water quality standards are requirements that must be met at all times, not to be complied with only occasionally,” said SELC Staff Attorney Megan Hinkle.  “EPD must fulfil its statutory obligation to protect water quality for the communities who want to safely fish, swim, and paddle.”

“The Altamaha River is beloved by fishermen and paddlers, and is home to fish and wildlife that depend on clean, healthy water,” said Altamaha Riverkeeper Jen Hilburn. “There is a lot of work to be done in order to safely address the impacts from years of pollution and improving this permit would serve as a solid first step in breaking that cycle.”  


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