Canton, North Carolina, Paper Mill Looks to Renew Wastewater Permit

March 16, 2021

The Blue Ridge Paper factory is in the process of its wastewater permit renewal, despite concerns about odors 

Canton, North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Paper factory is in the process of its wastewater permit renewal. 

The paper factory has spent more than $500 million on cleanup and mitigation since the 1980s, reported the California Public Press.  

The mill’s current application to renew its wastewater permit is scheduled for an online public hearing before the North Carolina Department of Environment Quality on Apr. 14, 2021. 

According to Mayor Zeb Smathers, the odor residents have shown concerns about in Canton is not exclusively the fault of Blue Ridge Paper, reported the California Public Press. 

“It may be a little bit of the mill, but it’s a landfill right off the interstate,” Smathers said of the odor that wafts over commuters on Interstate 40, reported the California Public Press. “I think one thing that started helping us grow is that we decided we were a mill town and we’re proud to be a mill town. We’re not a tourist town like so many others.” 

The paper mill’s environmental track record has been a point of news media coverage over the past few years, according to the California Public Press. This coverage is mainly due to locals in the 1980s witnessing Pigeon River running black at one point.

Environmental groups have raised concerns about whether the plant is doing enough to avoid excessive temperature increases in the river, as the plant handled a legal settlement a decade ago. The plant’s water discharge permits and color variance were challenged, reported Knox News.

This resulted in a settlement two years later. 

Water discharged from the mill after production is warmer than the natural flow of the Pigeon River, reported the California Public Press. Under the 2012 settlement, the plant agreed to monitor the temperature of its output based on a weekly average. 

Environmental groups are asking that permit be tightened again to require a daily average, so that temperatures do not fluctuate downstream by more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another potential aspect that could be addressed would involve the amount of chloroform permitted. The proposed permit would relax the limit on discharge and bring it in line with current U.S. EPA standards, reported the California Public Press. 

The 2010 permit allowed chloroform discharges of up to 5.1 pounds per day as a monthly average and the proposed 2021 permit would increase those limits to 6.27 pounds per day, reported the California Public Press. This change is for a process that takes place within the plant and not a discharge to the Pigeon River, however. 

The online hearing will take place at 6 pm Apr. 14 regarding Blue Ridge Paper’s proposed wastewater permit. The public can give comments during the meeting or submit written comments before Apr. 30 and more information can be found here.

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Cristina Tuser