Conservation Groups Seek to Stop Wood Pellet Company’s Illegal Pollution of Lumber River

Pellet Mill Also Raises Concerns of Toxic Water Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—On behalf of Winyah Rivers Alliance, the Southern Environmental Law Center today notified Active Energy Renewable Power that the British-owned company must stop its unpermitted discharges of industrial stormwater into the Lumber River from sawmill operations on property heavily contaminated with toxic solvents in Robeson County, N.C. The company also plans a wood pellet manufacturing facility on the contaminated site that would use groundwater taken from on-site wells as cooling water and then release it into the Lumber River. In the past, groundwater on the site was contaminated with benzene, a pollutant known to cause cancer.

“Limiting industrial pollution improves the health of our water resources and the health of people,” said Heather Hillaker, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Residents of nearby communities that are predominantly Native American and African American already are exposed to multiple sources of industrial pollution. The Lumber River, people who use the river, and people who live nearby deserve protection under the Clean Water Act from yet another source of pollution.”

Unpermitted stormwater discharges from the contaminated site in Lumberton, N.C., where the company currently operates a sawmill are a violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Active Energy sells lumber and railroad ties, and stores feedstock materials for a manufacturing facility it plans to construct at the site to turn wood into a coal-like substance called “black pellets” for export to wood pellet markets in Europe and Asia. This manufacturing process will also discharge polluted wastewater into the Lumber River. Despite plans to start manufacturing pellets in the near future, Active Energy has not applied for the required Clean Water Act permit for these discharges either.

“Active Energy’s ongoing and unpermitted sawmill operations are discharging oxygen-depleting pollutants into the Lumber River, a federally designated Natural and Scenic River,” says Winyah Rivers Alliance’s Lumber Riverkeeper, Jefferson Currie II. “The company is also planning to discharge wastewater polluted with volatile organic compounds and industrial solvents to the river. Without proper regulation and monitoring of these discharges, I worry about the level of pollutants the company will release into the Lumber River. To protect our waterways, the people of South Lumberton, and those who use and enjoy the river, Active Energy must have approved permits from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality for the stormwater and wastewater discharges.”

Pollutants from the accumulated materials currently stored on site as part of the operating sawmill can deplete oxygen in the river and suffocate fish and other aquatic life as well as cloud the water with particles causing additional harm to river life.

Active Energy has 60 days under the law after this notice to stop its discharges from its contaminated property into the Lumber River.

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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