Georgia antebellum textile mill to stop sending ‘forever chemicals’ to Chattooga River
Under pressure, a South Carolina-based manufacturing company has agreed to stop using PFAS-containing products at a major textile mill in northwest Georgia.
Mount Vernon Mills will permanently eliminate use of all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances by the end of the year at its Trion facility, which is about 30 miles north of Rome, according to a proposed consent decree filed with the U.S. District Court of North Georgia.
In the meantime, the company has agreed to isolate the PFAS-tainted industrial wastewater and send the polluted water off to a hazardous waste incinerator for disposal.
And with the mill’s industrial wastewater still going to Trion’s treatment facility, the town has agreed to test it quarterly at the facility.
Known as “forever chemicals” because of how long they persist in the environment, the contaminants have been linked to health concerns like high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and testicular and kidney cancer.
The company was sending PFAS pollution to the town’s treatment plant, which was unable to remove the PFAS before releasing the water into the Chattooga River, the Coosa River Basin Initiative alleged in its complaint filed in federal court.
The Coosa River Basin Initiative, which is an environmental advocacy group, flagged the practice through a citizen suit process built into the Clean Water Act. The nonprofit’s settlement agreement with the company and town is still under federal review.
Mount Vernon Mills, a manufacturer of flame-resistant fabric, has a long history in Georgia that pre-dates the Civil War and has earned the Trion site a historical marker honoring its role as northwest Georgia’s first cotton mill.
The Trion mill is also Chattooga County’s largest employer.
The company issued a press release Friday announcing it would discontinue the use of all PFAS chemistry used for water and stain resistance and release on some of its fabrics, citing the settlement agreement but also the “evolving science around the use of PFAS across many industries.”
“The trends around PFAS usage have continued to evolve, and Mount Vernon is committed to evolve with the regulations, and to be cooperative with regulators along with being conscious of what is best for our employees and our surrounding communities,” Bill Duncan, the company’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
Trion Mayor Lanny Thomas deferred to the town’s attorney for comment since another case with similar claims is still pending in federal court. The town’s attorney had not responded to the request for comment as of Monday.
Mount Vernon Mills is also a defendant in the other lawsuit, which was filed after PFAS pollution caused a drinking water crisis in Summerville just south of Trion in 2020.
In the proposed consent decree with the Coosa River Basin Initiative, the company and town agree to take steps to stop more PFAS-contaminated wastewater from being dumped into the Chattooga River. They also agree to pay $5,000 in civil penalties to the federal government.
The Coosa River Basin Initiative was represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which argued the town should have required the mill to modernize its treatment technology to remove PFAS before sending wastewater to Trion’s public works treatment facilities.
“This agreement serves as a model for how Georgia’s textile industry can work alongside communities to ensure safer water for everyone,” Chris Bowers, SELC senior attorney, said in a statement.
“Industrial polluters are required by law to control PFAS pollution instead of placing the burden on communities downstream, who may be exposed to these chemicals in drinking water or have to pay for expensive drinking water treatment upgrades,” he said.
Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative, said his organization has been monitoring “the PFAS problem in our watershed with increasing concern” for years.
The Coosa River basin includes the Chattooga River, which flows through the small town of Trion, and into Weiss Lake farther downstream in Alabama.
Demonbreun-Chapman said in a statement that the group’s goal was to work with the company to find a solution to prevent further polluting of the Chattooga River and Weiss Lake.
“Ending use of PFAS in textile production at this facility is an important step to finally dealing with ongoing contamination in our region and should serve as an example to others that there are alternatives to using these chemicals in manufacturing in the first place,” he said.