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The Scent of a Paper Mill

A New Indication of Pollution from a South Carolina Paper Mill Acquired by Quill And Fox

Boston, August 17 – A South Carolina paper mill, previously plagued by an unpleasant odor, has emerged as one of the United States’ most polluted sites since its acquisition by an investment group led by Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots football team.

Addressing the Complaints

Large-scale emissions of hydrogen sulfide, a gas notorious for its rotten egg-like stench, have prompted over 30,000 complaints against the New-Indy paper mill in Catawba, South Carolina. This gas, in concentrated doses, can cause headaches and even death. In response to these concerns, federal and state authorities have issued orders to reduce emissions from the mill. Additionally, the company is facing three civil lawsuits alleging that the odor is negatively affecting local families.

However, regulatory action has yet to be taken against the mill for its release of soot (small particulates). Surprisingly, the levels of soot emitted by the mill surpass those of larger competing paper mills and even the country’s largest oil refineries.

Alarming Levels of Particulate Matter

The most recent stack test conducted in 2020 revealed that the New-Indy paper mill emitted small particles at a rate of nearly 300 pounds per hour. This hourly rate is up to 50 times higher than other large paper mills in the United States, according to data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As a point of comparison, Exxon Mobil Corp’s Baton Rouge oil refinery, the highest emitter among U.S. refiners, averaged 138 pounds per hour in its latest stack test.

Particulate matter, composed of particles 50 times smaller than a grain of sand, poses significant risks as it can bond with other toxins and enter the bloodstream, potentially damaging the heart, lungs, and nervous system.

Taking Responsibility

In response to the elevated pollution levels observed during the 2020 test, New-Indy attributed the issue to problems with the feed of bark fuel into a boiler. The mill, however, maintains that its overall performance remains within federal limits, according to regulators.

“New-Indy Catawba is committed to operating its facility in a safe and responsible manner,” the company stated.

The Kraft Group’s Involvement

The South Carolina operation was acquired for about $300 million in 2019 by a joint venture between Schwarz Partners LP and Kraft Group Inc, led by Robert Kraft. Known as the owner of the New England Patriots, winners of six Super Bowl titles, Kraft has amassed a fortune estimated at $6 billion through investments in paper mills, real estate, and entertainment ventures, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

A Distressed Community

Since the plant’s conversion to manufacturing cardboard rather than bleached paper products, a build-up of fiber waste in collection basins has likely contributed to elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide at the facility. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) has set up a hotline that has received over 30,000 complaints about the smell since March.

“I haven’t witnessed anything of this magnitude in 20 years,” remarked Amy Armstrong, executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), referring to the release of hydrogen sulfide.

Urgent Measures

In response to the situation, the EPA issued an emergency order in May, demanding that the New-Indy plant reduce its hydrogen sulfide emissions and install air pollution monitors throughout the premises.

One resident aptly described their predicament: “We are prisoners in our own smelly home,” according to the narrative presented in the EPA’s emergency order.

During an EPA site visit in April, inspectors recorded hydrogen sulfide levels as high as 15,900 parts per billion. Breathing difficulties, headaches, and nausea can occur from prolonged exposures between 2,000 and 5,000 parts per billion, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

High Levels of Soot Compared to Competitors

The New-Indy paper mill’s largest boiler, which utilizes wet bark and old tires to generate power for milling operations, produced particulate matter at an average rate of 157 pounds per hour, with peak production reaching 282 pounds per hour in 2020, as stated in the reports submitted to the EPA.

During a stack test conducted in 2016 under the management of Resolute Forest Products, the mill’s previous owner, the average production of particulate matter from the same boiler was 100 pounds per hour, 36% less than the average rate in 2020.

In contrast, paper mills run by Domtar Corp, International Paper Inc, and WestRock Co displayed significantly lower levels of small particulate matter production, as evidenced by stack tests reviewed by Reuters.

For instance, International Paper’s mill in Ticonderoga, New York, produced only 13 pounds per hour of small particle pollution in its most recent stack test this year.

“We’re absolutely concerned about New-Indy’s alarmingly high levels of particulate matter,” expressed Michael Martinez, staff attorney at SCELP.

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