Evironmental Protection Division inspectors find no irregularities in textile plant's discharge into Ogeechee River

Georgia Environmental Protection Division inspectors visited the King America Finishing plant and found no irregularities in the textile plant's discharge into the Ogeechee River after three counties along the river near Statesboro warned the public not to fish or swim in, or eat fish caught in the river.

"We surveyed the river from bridge crossings yesterday and found no sign of any dead fish," EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said Friday. "Tim Barrett of the Wildlife Resources Division was on the river and saw no dead fish. We also sent an inspector to King America Finishing and found no wastewater related issues or problems. Dissolved oxygen and pH levels at the discharge point were normal."

Chamber said Barrett said it's "not unusual to see a few dead fish when the river is running low in this hot weather." When the counties issued advisories this week — after a three-foot-long catfish was reportedly found in the river — it was the third time in 13 months people were advised to stay clear of the Ogeechee.

Last year about 38,000 fish were killed along a 70-mile stretch of the river below the discharge pipe of the King America Finishing plant. After an investigation, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blamed the deaths on Columnaris that the fish were vulnerable to because of high water temperatures and low stream flows.

In May there was a second fish kill, of fewer than 100 fish. EPD investigators attributed that kill to high water temperatures, low stream flows, and two bacterial diseases. Effingham, Bulloch and Screven counties posted notices cautioning citizens to avoid fishing or swimming in the river. Those warnings were lifted after the EPD determined the cause of the fish kill.

Although the EPD and EPA concluded the fish were killed last year by bacteria, EPD director Judson Turner said in a letter last January to Ga. Senator Jack Hill (R-4th District) that EPD had "traced the problem to King America Finishing," which, before the kill, had been discharging wastewater from its fire-retardant fabric production line without a permit.

Last fall the EPD and King America Finishing entered into a consent agreement in which the EPD more tightly regulated KAF's discharge to meet all water quality standards and stepped up the requirements that it monitor its own discharge. Chambers said the company's discharge is meeting those new standards.

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper environmental group has filed suit against the EPD challenging the consent order. King American Finishing has denied any link to the fish kills, which have all taken place below its discharge, but concerns about the river continue. The Riverkeeper said its own tests have found what it claims are unacceptably high levels of ammonia in the water downstream of the King America Finishing discharge.

Hundreds of people attended a public hearing in June over the EPD issuing a permit to the company that will allow it to continue to discharge from the fire retardant line. Many voiced opposition to EPD issuing a permit. They claim the company's discharge has destroyed aquatic life along the river, which the state re-stocked after last year's kill.

Last year's spill prompted several civil suits filed against King America Finishing by people who claim they have been harmed by the company's discharge.

Effingham EMA director Ed Myrick said in announcing the latest advisory "it is apparent that the pollutants in the Ogeechee River are continuing to be an ongoing problem and may always be until the Northern portions of the river are reclassified. I sympathize with the businesses that depend on the Ogeechee River for income, but we must look after the health and safety of everyone involved."