Coosa River Basin Initiative, SELC reach resolution to protect downstream communities
ROME, Ga. — In a victory for the health of Georgia’s Chattooga River, Alabama’s Weiss Lake, and downstream communities, a major textile mill in northwest Georgia has committed to permanently cease the use of PFAS and take action to reduce water pollution.
Located on the Chattooga River, the textile mill discharged wastewater polluted with per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the municipal wastewater treatment plant in Trion, Georgia. Because Trion’s wastewater plant cannot remove the chemicals—known as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment—the plant’s sludge and wastewater has contaminated the Chattooga River watershed with PFAS for the past several years.
Last year, SELC, on behalf of Coosa River Basin Initiative, sent notices of intent to sue both Mount Vernon Mills and the Town of Trion alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and federal laws prohibiting PFAS pollution.
This week, Coosa River Basin Initiative, together with Mount Vernon Mills, Inc. and the Town of Trion, have jointly moved for a Consent Decree that will, if entered by the Federal District Court, resolve a civil enforcement lawsuit brought by SELC on behalf of CRBI against the Mill and Trion. Under its terms, Mount Vernon will permanently end the use of PFAS in textile operations at the Mills’ Trion facility.
Mount Vernon has now committed to permanently stop using PFAS at this textile mill by the end of 2023. In the meantime, the company has taken steps to significantly reduce the amount of PFAS it is sending to Trion’s wastewater plant by diverting its internal process wastestream for offsite treatment.
“This agreement serves as a model for how Georgia’s textile industry can work alongside communities to ensure safer water for everyone,” said Chris Bowers, SELC Senior Attorney. “Industrial polluters are required by law to control PFAS pollution instead of placing the burden on communities downstream, who may be exposed to these chemicals in drinking water or have to pay for expensive drinking water treatment upgrades. Trion’s wastewater treatment plant should have required the textile mill to modernize its treatment technology to remove PFAS prior to discharging them to Trion’s public treatment works. The proposed consent decree, which requires Mount Vernon to stop using PFAS at this mill, puts long overdue restrictions on these harmful chemical releases.”
“Over the past several years, we have monitored the PFAS problem in our watershed with increasing concern,” said Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, Executive Director of Coosa River Basin River Initiative (CRBI). “Throughout this process, CRBI’s goal has always been to sit at the negotiating table and find a solution that would truly be protective of the Chattooga River and Weiss Lake. We are pleased to play an important role in hastening the end of forever chemicals in ongoing textile manufacturing at the Mount Vernon Mill, while working with industry to find innovative solutions to the challenges posed by these chemicals. Ending use of PFAS in textile production at this facility is an important step to finally dealing with ongoing contamination in our region and should serve as an example to others that there are alternatives to using these chemicals in manufacturing in the first place.”
“What this consent decree shows is that communities don’t need to live with PFAS in their drinking water, rivers, and lakes,” said Jean Zhuang, SELC Senior Attorney. “When pressured, the industries that use and manufacture these chemicals can either treat for them or find alternatives so that we aren’t exposed to avoidable toxic pollution. EPA has made clear that our states have the power and obligation to properly control industrial sources of PFAS like Mount Vernon’s. We are pleased with this result, but there are many other sources of PFAS in the state and Georgia should begin using its existing authority to stop this pollution to protect the public.”
PFAS are a class of thousands of synthetic chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX, and are known to be toxic and associated with serious health impacts. These contaminants do not dissipate, dissolve, or degrade but stay in water, soil, and our bodies for many years. Growing research links PFAS exposure to public health risks, including liver cancer, testicular cancer, liver damage, and thyroid disease.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 200, including more than 100 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. https://www.southernenvironment.org/
Coosa River Basin Initiative is a Georgia non-profit corporation that seeks to protect, preserve, and restore North America’s most biologically diverse river system, the Coosa River Basin, including the Chattooga River and Weiss Lake. CRBI achieves these objectives through education, advocacy, monitoring, public engagement, social events, sampling, pollution prevention measures, and seeking redress in the courts where reasonably necessary. CRBI is a member organization with more than 500 members, including individuals, families and businesses – many of whom live and work, swim, fish, boat, recreate, and engage in social events in, near, and on the Chattooga River and connected waters. https://coosa.org/