Ga. City, Manufacturer Agree To Stop PFAS Pollution
By: Enrique Serna
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Ga. City, Manufacturer Agree To Stop PFAS Pollution
Written By: Madeline Lyskawa
Re-Posted from Law360 (May 9, 2023, 5:11 PM EDT) — A textile and chemical manufacturer has agreed to permanently eliminate its use of “forever chemicals” by the end of the year, resolving Clean Water Act claims under a settlement struck Tuesday in Georgia federal court between itself, an environmental group and a northern Georgia town.
The nonprofit group Coosa River Basin Initiative filed a joint motion seeking to approve the consent judgment between itself, manufacturer Mount Vernon Mills Inc. and the town of Trion just one day after filing a complaint accusing the manufacturer of discharging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, into the town’s water pollution control plant, which then contaminated the Chattooga River, in violation of the Clean Water Act, or CWA.
PFAS, commonly known as “forever chemicals,” constitute a class of thousands of artificial chemicals present in manufacturing since at least the 1940s and which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled as dangerous to human health and the environment. In June 2022, the EPA drastically lowered the levels at which four PFAS chemicals are considered safe in drinking water.
Under the deal struck Tuesday, South Carolina-based Mount Vernon Mills and Trion have agreed to pay $5,000 in civil penalties for any alleged violations of the CWA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Mount Vernon Mills Inc. has agreed to permanently eliminate its use of PFAS at its Trion facility by or before Dec. 31, 2023.
Furthermore, as of March 1, Mount Vernon Mills has implemented a technical solution to isolate and containerize its PFAS-containing industrial wastewater and transport the water for offsite treatment at a fully licensed hazardous waste incinerator, according to the deal. And within two months of having implemented the “technical solution,” Mount Vernon Mills and Trion have agreed to conduct quarterly water sampling to analyze PFAS levels.
According to the Coosa River Basin Initiative, over the course of three decades, the PFAS discharged through industrial wastewater from Mount Vernon Mills’ textile mill in Trion into the town’s water treatment plant accounted for 94% of the plant’s wastewater volume.
Currently, the mill discharges approximately 3.2 million gallons of industrial process wastewater per day and 220,000 gallons of nonprocess wastewater per day to the Trion plant, the nonprofit group said.
Because the plant cannot remove PFAS from the wastewater, the chemicals have passed through the plant untreated and into the Chattooga River since at least April 2018, the group said, interfering with the treatment plant’s processes and sludging operations.
Although the plant discharged PFAS into the river, the city never disclosed such activity in its 2018 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit application, and therefore its 2019 permit does not allow for the city to discharge any PFAS into the river, the environmental group said.
As a result of the alleged chain of pollution, the Coosa River Basin Initiative hit the town of Trion with one count of discharging pollutants into U.S. waters without a proper permit, in violation of the CWA, and slapped Mount Vernon Mills with one count of violating national pretreatment standards, barring pass through and interference, in its Thursday complaint.
Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director of Coosa River Basin Initiative, told Law360 that the deal is an encouraging step toward showing it is possible to work together and create solutions to help hasten the transition away from PFAS use in textile manufacturing.
“We are just proud to be part of helping come up with the solution and helping transition away from these chemicals that are really, really difficult to treat once they get into the environment,” Demonbreun-Chapman said.
Christopher J. Bowers of the Southern Environmental Law Center, an attorney representing the group, similarly told Law360 he is very pleased with the result and that he hopes it will cause others in the manufacturing industry to rethink whether they need to use PFAS in the first place.
Representatives for Trion and Mount Vernon Mills did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Coosa River Basin Initiative is represented by Christopher J. Bowers and R. Hutton Brown of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Mount Vernon Mills Inc. is represented by Gregory W. Blount and Kathryn E. Hopkins of Kazmarek Mowrey Cloud Laseter LLP.
Trion is represented by Christopher L. Corbin of Farrar & Corbin PC and Leslie K. Eason of Gordon & Rees LLP.
The case is Coosa River Basin Initiative v. Mount Vernon Mills Inc. et al., case number 4:23-cv-00088, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
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