The New Indy containerboard mill in York County, SC, September 2022.

The South Carolina Environmental Protection Agency says a paper mill that sparked a string of odor complaints near Charlotte must take additional steps to stem future problems in York County.

In a press release late Wednesday afternoon, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control said it had reached an agreement with the New-Indy paper mill to correct “undesirable” odors that have plagued communities around the mill. The order replaces the action DHEC took in May 2021 that required New-Indy to control odor, the department said.

“We have worked with New Indy to ensure they take the necessary steps to provide long-term relief to surrounding communities, and we are pleased to have entered into this agreement with them that will help achieve that goal,” said DHEC- Director Edward Simmer in the press release.

DHEC’s press release, issued at 4:30 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving, left no time to question the agency further about the action. The state contacted a New-Indy spokesman but received no immediate comment on DHEC’s announcement.

But the DHEC consent order indicates that, among other things, the Department will require New Indy to install and operate a new pollution control device that will remove the foul-smelling waste generated at the paper mill. This equipment, known as a steam stripper, would complement an existing steam stripper at the plant and would be large enough to handle all of the waste, known as foul condensate. The new stripper must be installed and operational by July 1, 2025, the order said.

After purchasing the plant in late 2018, New-Indy ran into trouble when it stopped using the paper mill’s steam stripper to treat the messy waste. The garbage then flowed into a clogged sewage basin, which is believed to have contributed to the odor build-up that prompted nearly 50,000 complaints in early 2021.

New-Indy has since resumed use of the existing steam stripper, but this equipment was insufficient to handle all of the foul condensate in the mill.

While DHEC, the US Environmental Protection Agency and New Indy say the odor problem is easing thanks to facility improvements, people in the Rock Hill-Charlotte area continue to complain. Some people say a sweet chemical smell has replaced the rotten egg smells that were overwhelming communities in both Carolinas.

In addition to steam stripper requirements, the DHEC regulation signed Wednesday includes requirements that New-Indy:

Continued operation of three air pollution measuring devices at the factory boundaries

Add two additional monitors on the plant plot

Provide a sampling plan for two downwind locations

Sample the air in an offsite community when sampling from a leeward location exceeds certain pollution levels

Maintain a system to receive and respond to odor complaints within five miles of the paper mill

Test for hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide and dimethyl disulfide

New-Indy’s troubles prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to fine the company $1.1 million, a penalty approved by a federal court earlier this month. DHEC also fined the company nearly $130,000 for sewage issues. Simmer has previously said that DHEC was misled by New-Indy. The agency agreed to shut down the vapor separator before the odor problems began.

Meanwhile, high-profile law firms from South Carolina and Delaware have sued New-Indy on behalf of citizens who say the strong odors, described as stronger than most paper mills, have caused nausea, headaches and other health ailments.

New-Indy is a national corporation partially owned by New England Patriot owner Robert Kraft. The paper mill was operated for decades by Bowater in the township of Catawba, York County.

This story was originally published November 23, 2022 7:50 p.m.

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Sammy Fretwell has reported on the environmental blow for The State since 1995. He writes on a range of topics including wildlife, climate change, energy, government environmental policies, nuclear waste and coastal development. He has received numerous awards, including the 2017 SC Press Association Journalist of the Year. Fretwell is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and grew up in Anderson County. Reach him at 803.771.8537.
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