CATAWBA, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – The process ends in sludge as the facility produces paper.

That’s according to Brandon Jones, a Catawba Riverkeeper.

“This is a large industrial site that’s producing pollution, which they’re storing and unlined lagoons adjacent to the river,” Jones explained. “So, as groundwater and precipitation move through that, they’ll pick up contaminants and then go into the water.”

That sludge is stored right beside the river and these unlined lagoons.

“These are earthen dams and earthen basins, and they usually will have clay or kind of compacted soil,” Jones said. “So groundwater is certainly moving much slower through there than like sand, but it is not stopped, he said. 

Dioxins are what could be in the groundwater. They’re toxic materials that can cause cancer if ingested in specific amounts.

Those dioxins come from the waste stored in new-indy’s unlined pits, which move into the river through groundwater.

Jones says they haven’t found anything significant yet in the water in Lancaster or downstream in Chester. 

It’s mainly about the risk.

“These are earthen dams which have the potential for failure,” Jones elaborated. “Any groundwater moving through into the river is a violation of the Clean Water Act.”

New Indy has been the subject of community uproar since 2021 when neighbors started complaining of a foul smell causing health problems. Now, — those neighbors are suing.

Riverkeepers have also joined a lawsuit, saying the papermill plant could also impact water quality in the area.

“There’s also the potential that some of this waste is becoming airborne and potentially could impact the drinking water reservoir of Lancaster across the river,” Jones said. 

The company released a statement in March which said:

“New-indy categorically denies the baseless accusations made by trial lawyers claiming the mill is discharging pollutants (dissolved solids, sulfate, and organic and inorganic compounds) to the groundwater that flows to the Catawba River.”

New Indy says it maintains 15 groundwater monitoring wells throughout the property to monitor levels of contaminants in the groundwater. 

Jones says they want to represent the river and all of its members in the lawsuit, along with the neighbors fighting the air pollution.

“When they make sure that water quality is the primary concern here, we want to make sure that this area is fully cleaned up,” Jones said.

The non-profit organization was involved in a similar lawsuit with duke energy a few years ago involving the clean-up and evacuation of six coal ash sites in North Carolina.

They settled in 2020.

Jones says they’re hoping for a similar outcome where New Indy fixes not only the air quality but also its wastewater collection process to stop the harm to the river.

New Indy declined our request for an interview due to the ongoing litigation; however, the company referred to its March statement.