Press Release | March 7, 2024

Groups sue to stop PFAS pollution in northwest Georgia

Coosa River Basin Initiative, SELC, sue the city of Calhoun in federal court

ROME, Ga. — On behalf of Coosa River Basin Initiative, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against the city of Calhoun in Federal District Court for violating federal law and allowing harmful pollutants in drinking water.

Located along two of northwest Georgia’s major rivers, Calhoun operates a publicly owned wastewater treatment plant that receives and treats industrial wastewater from major carpet producers and finishers – industries known to use per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals.” Calhoun has improperly allowed the unrestricted discharge of PFAS into the wastewater treatment plant, contaminating sewage sludge that the city disposed on agricultural land in the region.

Calhoun’s wastewater treatment plant is polluting the region with PFAS in two ways: discharging PFAS directly to the Coosawattee River from a large sludge field upstream of one of the city’s main drinking water intakes, and contaminating groundwater with PFAS from previously dumped sludge. Calhoun’s second drinking water treatment plant draws source water from onsite groundwater wells and a natural freshwater spring near certain sludge application fields, and all sources have reported PFAS based on agency testing in 2021. Although Calhoun leaders say they no longer dispose of sludge on the land, the PFAS contamination remains ongoing.

“Drinking water impacts because wastewater authorities don’t comply with environmental laws and control pollution at its source is absolutely unacceptable,” said Jesse Demonbruen-Chapman, CRBI Executive Director. “The citizens of northwest Georgia deserve full transparency from the city about the safety of their drinking water, and they deserve a robust response to the potentially dangerous contaminants that are in it.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, negative health effects may occur in people who drink water with near zero concentrations of PFOA and PFOS, (two particularly dangerous PFAS). Last year EPA proposed drinking water limits for six PFAS compounds, including PFOA and PFOS, at 4 parts per trillion.

“When wastewater facilities don’t meet their obligation to protect our natural resources, like safe drinking water, we must take legal action to hold them accountable,” said Chris Bowers, SELC Senior Attorney. “There is growing awareness of how dangerous forever chemicals can be to humans and the environment. We hoped Calhoun would step up and do the right thing by stopping this PFAS contamination. Given the urgency of this situation, we’re asking the court to step in and enforce our critical environmental laws, so that this PFAS contamination is adequately controlled and remedied.”

The lawsuit will seek to halt and remedy ongoing PFAS contamination from one of the major sludge fields where Calhoun previously disposed of PFAS-contaminated sludge generated by its wastewater plant, located on the Coosawattee River a short distance upstream from one of the city’s main surface water intakes used to supply public drinking water. CRBI’s lawsuit will seeks to halt and remedy ongoing PFAS contamination of groundwater that may be used as a source of drinking water, including the groundwater wells and the natural spring supplying Calhoun’s second drinking water treatment plant.

“The buck stops with wastewater treatment facilities. Calhoun must stop accepting polluted wastewater from industries that use PFAS chemicals,” said Jamie Whitlock, a Senior Attorney at SELC. “These environmental laws are designed to protect citizens from the type of widespread pollution the citizens of Calhoun, and their downstream neighbors, are enduring.”

Click HERE for a map of polluted area.

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Press Contacts

Terah Boyd

Communications Manager (AL/GA)

Phone: (404) 521-9900
Email: [email protected]

Partner Contacts

Jesse Demonbruen-Chapman

Coosa River Basin Initiative

Phone: 706-232-2724
Email: [email protected]