Port Wentworth Mill Faces Penalties for Fecal Contamination in Savannah River

Aaron Burrell

International Paper Company is facing nearly $28,000 in fines for discharging wastewater with unacceptable levels of potential fecal material from its Port Wentworth mill into the Savannah River over six months in 2023. This fine also includes a penalty for the unauthorized release of nearly 185,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater into a storm drain in December, which ultimately flowed into the river.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) issued a consent order on Monday, initiating a 30-day public comment period on the fine. Under the settlement, International Paper must submit and implement a plan to meet state effluent standards.

Violations from May through October showed elevated levels of enterococci bacteria, indicating possible contamination by human or animal waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The company had already discussed the likelihood of not meeting fecal effluent standards with the EPD in February 2023.

International Paper did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The EPD’s order covers violations of the state’s Water Quality Act, which can result in fines of up to $50,000 per day.

Air Quality Concerns

International Paper is also the largest air polluter in the Savannah area. In 2022, its northwest Savannah mill released over 367,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, 84% more than the county’s second-leading carbon polluter, the U.S. Sugar Savannah Refinery. This is equivalent to the emissions of nearly 83,000 gas-powered vehicles in a year. Carbon dioxide is the leading contributor to human-caused climate change.

The Port Wentworth mill is the fifth-largest greenhouse gas polluter in Chatham County, emitting over 95,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Combined, the two Chatham plants release emissions equivalent to burning half a trillion pounds of coal.

International Paper employs about 1,700 people locally and aims to reduce companywide greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030, as well as significantly cut waste and water use.

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