Georgians affected by the illegal pollution of the Ogeechee River for the past five years aren’t satisfied with the Environmental Protection Division’s handling of the case. The EPD reached a one million dollar settlement with the company even though, under Georgia law, the fine could have been much higher.
The EPD had inspected King America Finishing company in Screven County several times since 2006 when it began illegally dumping flame retardant into the river, but it never caught the problem says Jim Ussery with the EPD.
"They should have been caught without a doubt. However you have to remember this is a large chemical plant," says Ussery. "They had fourteen lines and added two others which carried the fire retardant work."
Ussery says the company is still running the lines but is decanting off the ammonia that is toxic to the river. It must also do one million dollars worth of environmental work on the river and upgrade its waste water treatment plant.
Ann Hartzell with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper says she and hundreds of people who live in areas around the river are outraged. Under the Georgia Clean Water Act, the company could have been fined 91 million dollars for its offense.
"Even though the EPD themselves note carefully all the violations they are aware of and there are many, there’s still no criminal penalty and there is no fine. It’s a supplemental environmental plan administered by the company that did the polluting and monitored by the agency that didn’t take action.
Hartzell says they’d been notifying the EPD of suspicious discharges from the company for years, but it wasn't until 38,000 fish died in May that an investigation began. They’re considering taking the issue to court. A citizens’ lawsuit against the company for damages continues.