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Residents call for closure of King America Finishing

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POSTED: June 13, 2011 10:53 a.m.
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Area residents express concern about pollution and more to a panel representing state agencies involved in investigating the fish kill during Tuesday’s public meeting at Effingham County Middle School. (Scott Bryant)

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Land owners, fishermen and many who simply love the Ogeechee River gathered Tuesday night to pose questions to EPD and DNR officials about the fish kill.

Several appeared angry and called out demands to close King America Finishing, in spite of EPD officials telling them there was no solid proof that the textiles treatment plant had done anything wrong.

However, the investigation continues, with EPD and Environmental Protection Agency officials still looking at the plant’s wastewater treatment system and at records.

“We’ve done a pretty exhaustive search for a catastrophic release of chemicals into the river,” said Bruce Foisy, with the EPD’s Coastal District office. Pointing at a map of the King America Finishing site, he said “That’s where our focus has been.”
An inspection May 23 revealed no violations, but investigators returned to look more, he said. “We’ve spent days ... to determine whether a release has been made,” he said. “We’ve checked floor drains and interviewed staff, looked at Jackson Branch (a stream that flows through the property) and looked for pipe discharge. We found nothing.”

They’re still looking for answers, he said.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper director Emily Markenstyn asked EPD officials whether King America adjusts its discharge according to the river’s water flow. EPD spokesmen said the plant’s discharge permit had been extended in 2005, but did not answer the question.

Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, read a portion of Georgia law that cites color (dye) being discharged into the water is a violation, then said King America “is not required to monitor for color.”  Some reported the plant’s discharge has discolored the river and its banks near the pipe.

She asked why EPD officials did not test the waters Friday when they first learned of the fish kill, stating her offices took samples within 12 hours of the kill’s reporting. She also called for changes in the EPD policy of alerting the public of possible dangers, adding that hundreds of people swam in the river in the two days between the kill being reported and the bans on swimming and eating fish were posted.

Several citizens commented on the EPD’s lifting bans before they had solid answers on what caused the fish kill and what had been released into the river.

“We said the water was safe for swimming. We didn’t presume people would be dumb enough to swim with a bunch of dead fish,” said EPD spokesman Burt Langley. This comment was followed by an angry rumble from the crowd.

A timeline provided by the EPD to show its response to the fish kill showed it took hours for government officials to reach a King America spokesperson. Phone calls to the plant’s emergency contact number went unanswered between 7:17 p.m. Friday, May 20, and 11:58 a.m. Saturday, May 21, a span of about 17 hours.

It also shows the fish kill was first reported to the EPD at 6:18 p.m. Friday, May 20, and although hundreds of dead fish were found south of the plant’s discharge pipe, it was 4:57 p.m. Sunday  - almost 47 hours later - before officials called for a ban on swimming.

 

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