Press Release | December 23, 2014

Conservation Groups Seek to Stop Town of Red Springs from Illegally Discharging Sewage Waste

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Citing ongoing permit violations over sewage discharge into local rivers and streams, a conservation group has charged that the Town of Red Springs is violating the Clean Water Act and that failure to address the pollution will result in a lawsuit.

The 60-day notice of intent letter – sent today by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Winyah Rivers Foundation (WRF) – details how Red Springs has repeatedly violated pollution limits in its permit. The town’s own discharge monitoring reports show that excessive levels of mercury, cyanide, copper, and zinc pollution from the town’s sewers have been released into the Lumber River Basin.

Discharge from the Red Springs treatment plant flows into Little Raft Swamp and then downstream to the Lumber River, a source of drinking water for more than 20,000 North Carolinians. Little Raft Swamp has been on the state’s impaired waters list since 2008.

“The town of Red Springs needs to take immediate action to stop this illegal pollution in order to protect communities within the watershed,” said Chandra Taylor, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s North Carolina office. “We’ve seen a number of permit violations over the past few years, resulting in dangerous levels of certain pollutants in local waterways.”

In 2013 and 2014, collectively, the Town had at least 84 violations of its water quality permit mercury limit. Red Springs’ permit limit exceedances for other pollutants are less frequent, though still a problem. During 2013 and 2014, Red Springs exceeded its discharge limits over 90 times for mercury, cyanide, zinc, and copper. 

Despite the risks posed by continued permit violations, including a decrease in species diversity downstream of the discharge, enforcement actions by North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources have been rare and lenient. In the past two years, the state has sent twenty violation notices without penalties. In a March 2014 hearing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked Red Springs to explain their ongoing noncompliance, yet also assessed no penalties. Red Springs responded to EPA regarding its pollution investigation, and has admitted to on-going permit violations.  Still, no federal or state regulatory action has resulted in compliance. 

“The Town of Red Springs has topped the list of permit violations in the state,” notes Paula Reidhaar, Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER, WRF. “The Lumber River is an important recreational area and a significant source of water flowing into Winyah Bay.  State and town officials need to act now to stop this excessive pollution into Little Raft Swamp, which will help improve water quality in the basin overall.”

Red Springs’ response to the E.P.A.’s investigation indicates that specific segments of the town who use the sewage system may be the greatest contributor to the mercury eventually discharged into Little Raft Swamp, but the Town has not achieved effective pretreatment guidelines for those system users. State water quality reports show that the section of Little Raft Swamp upstream from the wastewater treatment plant discharge is much healthier than the area downstream. Even after upgrades to parts of the system, the treated discharge still does not comply with permit conditions that are meant to protect water quality in the basin. 

 

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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 almost 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. WEB: www.SouthernEnvironment.org

About the Winyah Rivers Foundation
Winyah Rivers Foundation is a grassroots organization of people from both North and South Carolina who preserve the local rivers and watersheds through the work of advocates that guard these waters from further harm.  Incorporated as a nonprofit organization in January 2001, its mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed, including the Lumber River Basin.  http://www.winyahrivers.org/foundation.html

Press Contacts

Chandra Taylor-Sawyer

Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC's Environmental Justice Initiative

Phone: 919-967-1450
Email: ctaylor@selcnc.org