Kronospan, an Eastaboga plant that makes fiberboard, would pay $900,000 in fines and build a $7.7 million water treatment facility on its property to address water pollution under a settlement proposed by federal and state regulators last week.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management sued Kronospan in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama last week over water pollution in Choccolocco Creek.
“It’s a big deal,” said Justinn Overton, director of Coosa Riverkeeper, an environmental group that advocates for water quality on the Coosa and its tributaries.
Overton said the $900,000 fine was unusually large for Alabama. Pollution of the sort alleged in the suit could have serious effects on Choccolocco Creek, she said.
Even seemingly technical issues such as the pH of the water can have an impact. “At a really low pH, say 4 or less, fish start to die,” she said.
In a Monday press release, EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker was quoted as saying the proposed settlement represents “a recommitment by Kronospan to come into compliance with state and federal environmental laws,” although it is unclear whether the company has actually agreed to all the terms of the proposed settlement.
Opened in 2008 near Oxford, Kronospan is one of the area’s biggest manufacturing employers, with more than 400 employees. The company also has a long history of run-ins with the Oxford Water and Sewer Board, which handles its wastewater.
In the early years of the plant’s operation, state regulators cited the Oxford utility dozens of times for violating pollution standards for water it released into Choccolocco Creek. Oxford water officials in turn pointed to Kronospan, noting that the environmental problems began after the company began operating.
In later years, the plant itself began to rack up environmental citations. According to the EPA and ADEM lawsuit, Kronospan was cited for Clean Water Act violations 5,000 times in the five years between July 2012 and July 2017.
According to the suit, the plant allegedly violated limits on the temperature and acidity of the water it released, as well as limits on solids and oil and grease in water.
According to the lawsuit, a company can rack up a violation each day its water releases are out of limits.
The suit also alleges Kronospan failed to install required pre-treatment equipment for water, and that it failed to file regular required reports on water quality.
According to the proposed agreement, Kronospan would pay $900,000 in fines, split evenly between the EPA and ADEM. Kronospan would also have to build a $7.7 million “evaporation system” that would reduce the amount of water the company has to release to Oxford’s wastewater plant.
It’s unclear whether Kronospan has agreed to all of those terms, although company spokesman John Connell indicated in an email that the company had reached an agreement with regulators.
“Though Kronospan did not admit to any wrongdoing, it did agree to further study its treated discharge to see if additional reductions in solid material can be achieved,” Connell wrote. “In addition, Kronospan has voluntarily agreed to undertake projects to hopefully eliminate most industrial discharge to the sewer system.”
Attempts to reach EPA officials for further comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. Lynn Battle, a spokeswoman for ADEM, referred questions to the EPA.
Battle also emailed an announcement that indicates the proposed consent decree is still in a 30-day public comment period. Those wishing to comment should send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.