Chattahoochee Riverkeeper says this photo shows metal-polluted runoff from A&R Ironworks in Tucker flowing into Burnt Fork Creek. CONTRIBUTED BY CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVERKEEPER

Tucker ironworks company accused of polluting Chattahoochee

The environmental advocacy group dedicated to protecting the Chattahoochee River has filed a lawsuit against a metro Atlanta ironworks company for allegedly polluting a DeKalb County creek that feeds the river.

Filed by the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the lawsuit alleges that A&R Ironworks, which designs, fabricates and installs ornamental ironwork, is violating the Clean Water Act.

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The 40-year-old, Tucker-based company stores large amounts of industrial materials outside, which when exposed to rainfall send metal-polluted storm runoff into nearby waterways including Burnt Fork Creek, the suit claims. Pollution from heavy metals along with sediment that flows into the water can upset the ecosystem, killing fish and other animals.

Stormwater runoff that comes in contact with some industrial activity requires a general permit under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. The permit, revised in Georgia in 2017, requires owners of industrial facilities to file a notice of intent and to comply with its provisions. Neither A&R nor the property owner, Arnworks Properties, has done so, according to the lawsuit.

Representatives for A&R Ironworks did not respond to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s request for an interview.

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The lawsuit asks that A&R comply with permit regulations, which include developing a stormwater pollution plan, taking samples to determine pollution levels, and creating and following best practices to limit and control the discharge of pollution after rainstorms. It seeks civil penalties of up to $54,833 per day for each violation, an amount that could reach more than $400,000 per day.

In November 2018, staff members from Chattahoochee Riverkeeper observed thick, orange stormwater from the A&R site flowing into Burnt Fork Creek. The 6-mile creek runs from Tucker to Mason Mill Park, where it enters the South Peachtree Creek, which later connects to the Chattahoochee River. Despite development in the area, the Burnt Fork Creek has remained home to bass, blue gill and perch, and it supports more than 50 species of birds along with beavers, red foxes and river otters.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper sent several letters asking A&R Ironworks to comply with industrial stormwater permitting. In an emailed response to the organization at the time, an A&R representative said they did not believe they were required to have a permit, said Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth. That was the last time Chattahoochee Riverkeeper had direct communication with A&R, he said.

“We reach out to over 100 facilities each year that may be operating illegally and may be impacting waterways to make sure they are aware of what the Clean Water Act laws are,” Ulseth said. “Most of the time, we are able to work very openly and proactively with businesses and industries throughout the Chattahoochee basin.”

Since launching a program to address industrial pollution several years ago, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has investigated about 600 industrial facilities, Ulseth said. Fewer than a half-dozen of those investigations have resulted in legal action.

That includes a 2015 lawsuit against American Sealcoat Manufacturing that ended with a $10 million fine — one of the largest clean water fines in recent state history — after the company dumped a toxic black, oily material from its manufacture of parking lot sealant into a creek near Six Flags Over Georgia

“There are a number of industries operating illegally across the state,” Ulseth said. “The purpose of the program is to keep contaminants on industrial yards and prevent them from getting into local waterways. Once they are in, it is hard to remove them from the ecosystem.”

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