Aug 27, 2020

Pipe Failure at Paper Mill Blamed for Fish Kill

Black liquor overwhelmed paper mill’s on-site wastewater treatment system leading to discharge violation

A ruptured pipe overwhelmed a paper mill's wastewater treatment facility with black liquor, violating the Clean Water Act NPDES.
A ruptured pipe overwhelmed a paper mill's wastewater treatment facility with black liquor, violating the Clean Water Act NPDES.

According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), a pipe failure at Verso Corporation’s Escanaba Paper Mill is at fault for a fish kill in the Escanaba River near Gladstone, Michigan.

EGLE first received the report of the fish kill Aug. 9, according to a news report from The Mining Journal. It was then reported to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, as well.

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This incident falls under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act for point source discharge. The compliance manager for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for EGLE Tom Asmus said a team has been monitoring the area.

“We have been sampling and monitoring the river at numerous points since this incident occurred,” Tom Asmus said to The Mining Journal. “All indications are that the environmental conditions in the river have recovered.”

EGLE Water Resources Division District Supervisor Jay Parent said the mill reported the pipe rupture and has since repaired it. As such the water quality has improved since the break. According to news reports, the ruptured pipe discharged black liquor to the mill’s wastewater treatment plant. 

The mill’s treatment plant was not equipped to handle the excess high-strength effluent resulting in discharge violations, which ultimately killed northern pike, bass, walleye and other sportfish in the river.

“The wastewater system remained functional. However, it was not capable of treating the black liquor entirely,” Asmus told The Mining Journal. “When the high-strength effluent from the wastewater treatment plant reached the river, oxygen was drawn from the river, starving the ecosystem of dissolved oxygen and consequently killing numerous fish.”

Read the full news report from The Mining Journal for more information and quotes from authorities and officials.

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