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Temple-Inland Resumes Dumping in Pearl River

A Times Picayune article dated Saturday, August 27th, by Ron Thibodeaux, states that discharge from the Temple-Inland paper mill has already resumed at 1/10th of the "normal" rate, to alleviate possible emergency conditions if there is a "weather event".

DEQ, in the article, states that a "non-toxic red dye" will be used to track the discharge, and for the public not to be concerned about "red discoloration of the water" in the Pearl River.

A WWL TV report indicates that the discharge is waste water, and not the black liquor that caused the massive fish kill in the Pearl River. It is not stated in the report what chemicals, inorganic or organic matter that the waste water contains.

The news reports are different from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) web site, report posted on its front page, stating that Temple-Inland will be allowed to commence production and dumping in the Pearl River not until Sunday, August 28th. According to the DEQ report, there are changes being implemented by Temple-Inland paper mill, that includes a "Community Advisory Committee":

The Mill will also form a Community Advisory Committee which will meet monthly to facilitate two way communication on issues important to citizens of the local parishes. The Mill representatives will include the Mill Manager, Environmental Manger and Human Resources Manager; community representatives will include local officials and community leaders.

It is not stated how the "community leaders" will be chosen, or if these committee meetings will be open to the public. According to the DEQ report, discharge levels will return to "normal" in 5 days. It is unclear if there is a new "normal" in terms of discharge levels, which previously permitted Temple-Inland to dump at the maximum, 37,000 lbs of black liquor waste water in the Pearl River a day.

DEQ describes extensive changes to Temple-Inland production and waste treatment process that includes increased temporary storage capacity for the black liquor waste, and increased ability to re-process:

Process improvements will include increased monitoring and collection of material for re-processing. Additional tank capacity (approximately 3,100,000 gallons) will be available for spill collection by using an existing production tank until a new tank can be built.

Kevin Davis, St. Tammany Parish President, stated recently that fishing and swimming possibly would be allowed again on the Pearl River "by the weekend", based on water testing reports. I have been unable to find reports as to whether fishing and swimming has been allowed again.

During the public hearing on Monday, August 22nd, the Temple-Inland President, was somewhat less than forthcoming. According to a Slidell Sentry news report on the hearing, Temple-Inland Vice-President of Government Affairs either evaded or refused to answer questions.

Richard Bennett, Temple Inland vice president, Government Affairs, did not explain exactly what happened, or when, to cause the fish kill on the Pearl River. Nor could he describe the reportedly detailed and near-implementation-ready plan to improve operations in the offending wastewater treatment plant, and he claimed not to know how much “black liquor” the company is permitted to legally discharge into the water on a regular basis.(Slidell Sentry, 8/23/11, Marcelle Hanemann and Erik Sanzenbach).

A number of concerns should be heeded regarding the proposed Citizen's Advisory Committee: who chooses the community leaders is an important issue. The public at large should have representation on this committee. In addition, the committee meetings should be open to the public and media, and meeting notices posted well in advance in the media and online.

Questions should be asked of DEQ: why weren't additional safeguards and means for recycling the black liquor implemented prior to the occurrence of this ecological disaster? In addition, will the changes proposed bring the plant up to date and comparable to other paper mills around the world that have reduced their pollution significantly? It has not been posted exactly what is contained in the waste water that is not the black liquor, that is currently being discharged by Temple-Inland. Reports from residents of illness as a result of contact with the Pearl River should be investigated and residents given full access to medical care. In addition, reports that residents experienced, on July 27th, seepage of black liquor into their yards and water pipes should be investigated, and residents compensated for any health and physical damages.

The Slidell Sentry article details the harm to the environment and potential fines associated with the destruction of endangered gulf species:

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham called the incident “a horrendous event” that was “horrific for the environment,” and related it to last year’s BP spill.

“We lost tens of thousands of mussels, hundreds of thousands of fish of at least 26 species, including 24 gulf sturgeon, an endangered species,” Barham said. “That’s like losing 24 bald eagles. It’s extremely serious.” Barham said the US Wildlife Service was called in to “follow up with us on that.”

When asked if it is safe to go fishing, Morrell said, “According to DEQ safeguards, I’d probably wait a little longer.”

While the T-I penalties are not yet known, Sen. A.G. Crowe said that he’s heard that the taking of just one gulf sturgeon generally merits $50,000 and/or one year in prison.

Mike Wood of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said the Pearl River is the home of 100 fish species. The DWF preliminary count of fish shows that 26 species were affected by the discharge. He said some of the fish were darters, perch, catfish, paddlefish and the endangered Gulf Sturgeon. Stymiest said the parish collected 22 of the sturgeon. She said the penalty for killing the fish, which are on the Endangered Species List is a fine of $50,000 and/or a year in jail for each one killed.

Wood said there is still some question on whether turtles and otters were killed in the incident.

It was made clear from the beginning of this incident that turtles and otters were dying, and this was considered "unusual" in that they don't breath the water. Certainly these species come in contact with the water though, lending credence to an incident of chemical poisoning, and not just an incident of "oxygen depletion" as DEQ has suggested.

Analysis of the safeguards implemented by the company is needed by independent scientists to ascertain whether the plant is doing all that it can to reduce as much pollution from the paper mill as possible. In addition, it is important to monitor the fines and penalties so that they equal the crime.

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