Press Release | January 27, 2016

Color, Odor Limits in Rayonier Pollution Discharge Permit Fall Short

Conservation Groups Push for Compliance with Georgia Water Quality Standards

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

On behalf of Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK), GreenLaw, Stack & Associates and the Southern Environmental Law Center have filed a petition in response to Rayonier’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) 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 of discolored and foul smelling effluent into the Altamaha River, the groups charge that the limits should be more stringent, and that measurements for color, odor and turbidity must include stricter standards in order to comply with the Clean Water Act.

“It is disappointing that EPD did not take a stronger stance in enacting acceptable protections for this treasured Georgia waterway,” said Hutton Brown, Senior Attorney at GreenLaw. “We ask that EPD include significantly tighter limits on color in order to comply with applicable law and restore the quality of the Altamaha River.”

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

The Jesup-based mill continues to discharge 50 to 60 million gallons of effluent daily into the river, which is made up of complex organic chemicals that decrease oxygen levels in the water. Clearly visible both at the river’s surface and from space, the discharge often causes a dark, malodorous plume to extend down the river and fishermen have complained that it renders fish inedible for many miles downstream. 

“Visible, odorous pollution has been streaming into the river for decades, and we hope to address these ongoing issues once and for all,” said Co-counsel Don Stack. “It is high time to hold Rayonier to the standard of environmental protection that other companies in the pulp industry adhere to.”

ARK’s experts have pointed out that other similar plants around the world are capable of discharging in a manner that does not discolor the river.

In addition to ecological concerns, the Altamaha River basin affects commercial and recreational interests of surrounding communities.  The Altamaha is arguably the largest intact estuary system on the Atlantic coast, and the health of the river and important tributaries is directly impacted by upstream pollution.

“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.”

About the Altamaha Riverkeeper's:

Altamaha Riverkeeper is a 501(c)(3) non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the habitat, water quality, and flow of the Altamaha River, Georgia's largest river,  from its headwaters in North Georgia to its terminus at the Atlantic Ocean near Darien.  ARK represents more than 1,000 members who live, work, and recreate in the Oconee, Ocmulgee, and Ohoopee River Basins and their feeder streams that make up the 1,400 square mile Altamaha River Watershed.

About GreenLaw:
GreenLaw is dedicated to preventing air and water pollution that endangers human health and degrades Georgia’s natural resources. Since 1992, GreenLaw has achieved these goals by providing free, high-quality legal and technical assistance to environmental organizations and community groups throughout Georgia. For more information, visit and follow @greenlaw_GA on Twitter.

About Stack & Associates, P.C. : 
Stack & Associates, P.C.,, founded in 1993 through the vision of Donald D.J. Stack, Esq. is a premier environmental law office serving citizens, municipalities and corporations throughout the entire Southeast region.

About the Southern Environmental Law Center: 
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

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Megan Huynh

Senior Attorney