Containerboard mill runs afoul of its neighbors

State agency orders response after New Indy South Carolina facility serves as source of foul odor complaints.

May 12, 2021

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has issued an order to the New Indy Containerboard facility in Catawba, South Carolina, to correct what it calls an “undesirable level of air contaminants” emanating from the plant.

The agency says the order is a result of DHEC’s ongoing active investigation of the sources of strong and persistent odors in Lancaster and York counties, about which it says it has received more than 17,135 complaints.

“This order clearly defines immediate actions that New Indy must take to ensure good air quality for the people who live and work near the facility,” says Dr. Edward Simmer, director of the DHEC. “As the state’s public health and environmental protection agency, it is our duty to ensure that companies in South Carolina are good stewards of our beautiful state and that our residents have clean, odor-free air to the extent we can control.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says, “This decisive action is the result of a vigorous, cooperative investigation by DHEC and its partners. I’m confident that this order will bring long-term resolution to this matter and ease the concerns of York and Lancaster county residents.”

In addition to the DHEC’s monitoring and investigation, the agency says it requested the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assemble a technical to analyze modeling data and screen potential sources of sulfur compounds in the area. “We are hopeful that affected residents will begin to see a quick and lasting improvement to these odors,” Simmer says.

In an early May online article by Charlotte, North Carolina-based WCNC-TV, residents in the Catawba area describe a “rotten egg” smell permeating the air in their neighborhoods. The residents also claim some have experienced “headaches, nausea, skin and eye irritation.”

In April, the television station posted a copy of a letter from a New Indy vice president of manufacturing who wrote in part that an environmental testing firm hired by New Indy did not detect “compounds in any meaningful concentration that would equate to intense odors” emanating from the mill. The papermaker instead pointed to a fire that had taken place nearby and “sewage-related odors.”

New Indy purchased the Catawba mill from Resolute Forest Products in December 2018 and expressed its desire to have the mill produce “a diverse array of products from existing offerings like market pulp, lightweight coated papers and specialty grades to new offerings of high-quality, virgin ultra-lightweight linerboard.”