Paper Mill Blamed For Fish Kill Approved To Reopen

Nearly a month after being shut down due to a massive fish kill, some workers at a paper mill in Louisiana are finally able to return to work today. State officials have approved the reopening of Temple-Inland Inc.’s paper mill in Bogalusa, LA after the company assured authorities that they will strive to prevent similar incidents in the future.

To continue operations, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) ordered the paper mill to regularly perform rigorous sampling of treated wastewater at various locations, including wastewater at the mill’s discharge point and at locations upstream and downstream on the Pearl River. Also, the mill is required to report the results of the monitoring to several different agencies and local officials. DEQ’s Rodney Mallet says, “As long as they follow the plan, everything’s fine. We have people out there monitoring.”

After tests were conducted on discharged treated wastewater last Friday, DEQ officials declared no significant threats to fish and other animals in the river.

The fish kill that occurred on the Pearl River was largely blamed on the improper discharge of the so called “black liquor” compound. On August 13, the mill was shut down after the river became visibly black and a multitude of dead fish, shellfish, and turtles turned up. Witnesses say the discharge of black liquor was seen as far as 50 miles from the paper mill.

However, as early as August 9, there were already warning signs. Computers at the mill reported an exceeding overflow of black liquor into the Pearl River. Despite this, the mill continued to operate and dump substantial amounts of the compound into the river. The mill was shut down only after the DEQ received information on August 13 about hundreds of thousands of fish found dead on the Pearl River and sent scientists to investigate.

Some of the species that were affected are found almost exclusively in the Pearl River, such as the gulf sturgeon (a fish classified as a near threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and the ringed sawback turtle. Bass, catfish, flounder, and mussels were also among the animals killed.

Black liquor is a compound used to provide about two thirds of a paper mill’s energy needs. It is composed of water, organic substances from wood, and some chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide. The compound must be treated according to regulations before being discharged into a nearby waterway.

However, the DEQ stresses that the fish kill was not caused by toxic chemicals but by oxygen depletion. Despite its toxic content, the high concentration of untreated black liquor contained enough wood and organic content to deplete oxygen, which is what killed off fish, shellfish, and turtles in the river.

Despite this accident, Temple-Inland Inc. has been a leader in the industry for being environmentally responsible. Before becoming Temple-Inland Inc. in January 2008, Inland regularly complied with DEQ and EPA regulations and received awards, including numerous Sustainable Forestry Initiative certifications and the prestigious U.S. Department of Interior Conservation Service Award.

However, after January of 2008, management changed several things around the mill. For instance, the proper treatment of black liquor before it is safe to discharge into the Pearl River takes at least 21 days. Under the newer management, the treatment process was shortened to only one day.

Temple-Inland Inc. produces paper used for packaging and building materials and employs about 600 workers at the Bogalusa paper mill. Besides complying with environmental regulations, the company has received numerous awards for providing customers with quality services and products. Do it Best Corp. has named Temple-Inland Inc. “Vendor of the Year” several years in a row.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/macbeck/3982210565

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