‘This is a real issue’: Neighbors say odor from plant near state line remains

INDIAN LAND, S.C. — For more than a year, neighbors from Mecklenburg to Union counties, and from York to Lancaster counties have been complaining about a foul odor coming from a plant in Catawba, South Carolina called New Indy Containerboard.

Federal and state health officials have gotten involved, but some neighbors say steps to correct the problem have not worked. Next week, a judge will decide if a class action lawsuit against the company moves forward.

Robert and Valerie Giliberti love their home in Indian Land but, for more than a year, they say they’ve shared their space with an irksome odor.

“I noticed something stinky and it was hard to figure out what it was, and the only way I could describe it was wet dirty cardboard ― like a rotten pizza box,” Valerie Giliberti said.

She said the smell started to permeate their home. They soon learned more than 17,000 other neighbors from York, Lancaster, Mecklenburg and Union counties were complaining about that same smell.

South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control said the smell was coming from New Indy Containerboard, which makes linerboard for packaging.

Last spring, both DHEC and the EPA ordered the company to work to eliminate the odor. This week, the company told Channel 9 Reporter Tina Terry it has done just that, and has made changes that include adjustments to the wastewater treatment system.

“What that has allowed us to do is allow these aerators on these wastewater systems to run 24/7, which they were not doing before,” said Peter McCoy, an attorney representing New Indy.

The plant has also placed monitors on- and offsite to test for hydrogen sulfide in the air ― a gas that health officials said could be behind that rotten egg smell.

“The situation has improved whether DHEC regulations or the EPA,” McCoy said. “We are exceeding their expectations when it comes to dealing with these issues.”

But neighbors like the Gilibertis say the odor is still there; it’s just different.

“It’s not just rotten eggs anymore,” Valerie Giliberti said. “Now, it smells like they put a perfume over it.”

Attorney David Hoyle represents some families in a class action lawsuit against the plant.

“This is a real issue,” Hoyle said. “This is not something that’s been made up.”

He says there aren’t enough monitors testing for hydrogen sulfide levels in the community, and says other chemicals may be adding to the problem. He says the class action lawsuit would force the company to do more to stop the emissions, provide financial compensation to people impacted by the odor, and address any depreciation to their properties.

“It is not a pleasant smell and it is causing people, as I said earlier, to stay inside their homes,” Hoyle said. “People in the Carolinas do not live here to stay indoors.”

A week from today, a judge will decide if that class action lawsuit moves forward. If it does, it could be next year ― or even 2024 ― before the case wraps up.

New Indy Containerboard says it has been working to partner with the community. It’s created a community engagement group to get feedback from neighbors. To learn how to get involved with that group, and to see more of what the plant has done to get rid of that odor, click here.

(WATCH PREVIOUS BELOW: Rock Hill residents file motion to intervene in EPA’s New Indy litigation)