Class action lawsuit filed against plant blamed for stench near state line

CATAWBA, S.C. — People are now suing a York County paper mill blamed for a foul smell near the state line.

Channel 9 has investigated the cause of the smell for months as thousands of people in Mecklenburg, York, Union, and Lancaster counties complained about the stench coming from the New Indy Containerboard plant.

The smell was so strong that it made hundreds of people sick.

The class action lawsuit says last November, New Indy switched from making paper to making containerboard. Because of that, byproducts that used to be sent to an incinerator are now sent to outdoor lagoons. That allows hydrogen sulfide, which causes the bad smell, to evaporate into the air, according to the suit.

The lawsuit calls for a jury trial and anyone who lives within 30 miles of the mill can join the suit.

The EPA has ordered New Indy to create a plan to lower emissions.

Channel 9 has reported that the EPA determined the smell that thousands of people near the South Carolina/North Carolina border have been complaining about was coming from the company south of Rock Hill.

The agency ordered the company to reduce emissions and monitor air quality.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control started investigating the issue in early March, when they received an increase in complaints. More than 17,000 people have filed complaints about the odor for months.

Last Thursday, the EPA said it sent the plant’s parent company a formal request requiring it to perform air monitoring in the communities surrounding the facility. The EPA is also initiating its own air monitoring around the greater Rock Hill area extending into North Carolina this week in response to requests from state, local and tribal agencies.

These actions are intended to reduce and prevent future public health and welfare risks associated with hydrogen sulfide emissions, according to the EPA.

“The steps taken by EPA today are necessary to address levels of hydrogen sulfide that have impacted residents along the North Carolina and South Carolina border, and Catawba Indian Nation,” said EPA Acting Region 4 Administrator John Blevins. “The joint efforts of CIN, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and the Mecklenburg County Air Quality emphasize the agencies’ full commitment to restoring the area’s air quality.”

The New Indy plant is required to immediately begin taking steps to reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions to meet specific limits, as monitored at the fence line, of 600 parts per billion over a rolling 30-minute period and 70 parts per billion over a rolling seven-day average, the EPA said.

The facility is required to install three fence line monitors to make sure that it is meeting the limits. Under the order, the company is required to submit a draft and final plan to meet these limits within three and eight days, respectively, and comply with the final plan within five days after EPA approval of the company’s final plan.

The order also requires that New Indy Containerboard immediately notify the EPA of any hydrogen sulfide exceedance, submit daily documentation of the previous 24 hours of monitoring data, and submit summary reports every seven days documenting the results of the continuous monitoring.

Last Friday, DHEC released a report with the results from the inspections. View the order from the department here.

The EPA confirmed that concentrated levels of hydrogen sulfide at the facility were the cause of the odor.

According to health officials, the undesirable levels of air contaminants at the facility are “injurious to human health or welfare or are unreasonably interfering with enjoyment of life or use of property,” and must be fixed.

DHEC has ordered the facility submit a draft corrective plan to the department and to eliminate the foul odor by May 18, followed by a final plan no later than May 24.

Since mid-April, the EPA has had technical teams on the ground in the Rock Hill area conducting an investigation into residents’ complaints about air quality.

Indy released the following statement:

“New-Indy is continuing to take steps to determine the source and resolve the issues relating to the odor emanating from our plant.

Our company strives to be a good member of the community. We are committed to the safety of our 420 local employees and the surrounding area; protecting the environment; promoting economic vitality; and charitable giving to support great local causes.

Yesterday, New-Indy received notice of an order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the odor problems reported over the past several months. The EPA order is similar to the order issued last week by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). We are reviewing both orders and intend to comply with both in good faith as soon as we are reasonably and safely able.

Since March, New-Indy has been working to determine the source of the reported odors. We conducted a comprehensive review and retooling of our waste water treatment systems, including restarting the stripper and restoring the aeration stabilization basin, and installed air quality monitors on our property that continuously test air quality levels and collect meteorological information such as wind speed and direction. Preliminary data from those devices indicate that our activities are having a positive effect.

The EPA order references information that differs from our findings to date. This underscores the critical importance of sharing data and working together to an expeditious solution, to which we are fully committed. We have kept EPA and DHEC fully informed of our efforts and have offered to share our findings.

New-Indy has and will continue to work cooperatively with local, state and federal authorities to resolve the issues swiftly. New-Indy is committed to being a responsible corporate citizen and an asset to the region, as evidenced by the multi-hundred million dollar investment we made during COVID that saved 400+ manufacturing jobs and created 1,000 construction jobs. Our employees live and work here, and we are eager and determined to get this right.”

Industrial plant blamed for foul odor at state line applies for emissions increase

An industrial plant that thousands of people are blaming for a foul odor in our area just applied for an emissions increase, and the South Carolina Senate is stepping in to try to prevent that from happening anytime soon.

Residents along the North and South Carolina border have been filing complaints about the smell near the new Indy Containerboard Plant in Indian Land.

Sen. Michael Johnson and residents told Channel 9 they were stunned to learn New Indy wanted to increase its emissions.

“I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as rotten eggs, but it’s close,” said Tyler Fritz, a resident of the Legacy Trace neighborhood in Indian Land.

[READ MORE: EPA says possible cause of mysterious odor along state line is hydrogen sulfide]

Fritz said that at about 6 a.m. is when the stench that’s been plaguing residents near the state line for weeks is the strongest.

“People are enjoying the nice outside weather and a smell increase would not be fun,” Fritz said.

Johnson, who smells it as his house, said that could have been a reality.

“You wake up one morning, and they’ve actually applied to increase emissions by 48%,” Johnson said.

The New Indy Containerboard Plant filed a request with the Department of Health and Environmental Control to increase emissions even as it is under investigation by the agency as a possible contributor to the smell.

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New Indy said it is not the cause of the odor.

The company said environmental engineering firm Weston Solutions “did not detect those compounds in any meaningful concentration that would equate to intense odors,” according to a report filed on April 16 with DHEC.

Johnson filed a budget clause Wednesday to block any pulp mill in York County from increasing emissions for a year, which passed unanimously.

“Until the EPA has determined what’s going on, until DHEC tells me how to fix this, we can’t have an increase in emissions,” Johnson said. “I wish we could have a decrease.”

DHEC said Thursday that it, along with the EPA, are continuing to investigate the source of the smell, and it is reviewing that report from New Indy.

DHEC Statement:

“DHEC is continuing its investigating into the source of strong odors in Lancaster and York counties, with EPA assistance. The agency is performing a detailed review of the April 16 report submitted by New Indy, and, after review, we’ll provide a response to the facility. We’ll also publish our response on our website as part of our ongoing efforts to keep the public informed.

“As a reminder, DHEC has created a form to gain specific information that will aid in our ongoing odor investigation. Community members and their observations are valuable assets in our investigation.”