Concerns Arise Over Returning Treated Water To Rivers

Environmental activists in East Tennessee are opposing a plan that calls for taking water from the Nolichucky River for use by a Greene County industrial chemical plant and then returning the treated water to the river.

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Environmental activists in East Tennessee are opposing a plan that calls for taking water from the Nolichucky River for use by a Greene County industrial chemical plant and then returning the treated water to the river.

US Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Austin Powder Co., plans to produce ammonium nitrate, an ingredient used in industrial explosives, at the plant in Midway, the Knoxville News Sentinel ( reported.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has granted air and water permits that would allow discharge of the treated water into the river, which has been called one of the most beautiful waterways in the country.

Representatives of US Nitrogen and local industrial development agencies say the water discharged into the river — which will contain specified levels of ammonia up to that allowed by the permit — will not be a danger to the environment.

But environmental activists are challenging that assertion.

Sierra Club attorney Brian Paddock says he's concerned about the amount of ammonia that might be discharged into the river and the effects of the pollution over time. He expressed his concerns in a letter to TDEC.

Another consideration is the cumulative effect of the discharge on communities downriver, which already have to deal with the effect of nitrogen from fertilizers and other sources, he said. The Witt Utility District drinking water supply intake is downstream. These utilities may not be able to treat the water sufficiently to remove the extra ammonia, he said.

Another consideration is the volume of water in the river and at the discharge point, environmentalists said.

Estimates of water flow that were submitted along with the application for discharge do not take into account the fact that, historically, the flow of the river has varied enough that at times it's possible to walk across the bed of the river, they said.

According to Tom Ferguson, president of the Greene County Partnership, an economic development agency that worked to recruit US Nitrogen, the company has provided assurances that the most up-to-date processes and equipment are being used at the plant.

Ferguson said he understands why people would be concerned based on pollution that has occurred in the past, but noted that federal and state environmental regulations have become extremely strict.

The project has been vetted by TDEC, the EPA and "so many engineers it's hard to count them all," he said.

Greene County Commissioner Hilton Seay said he believes all the proper precautions have been followed in the permitting of the plant.

"I have faith in our regulatory agencies," he said.

US Nitrogen vice president Jim Boldt said his company spent millions of dollars on research and engineering to make the plant safe, efficient and within the TDEC guidelines.

"The folks at TDEC set a challenging threshold," he said.

The amount of ammonia allowed to be discharged is extremely low, he said. Within yards of the discharge point the ammonia becomes so diluted that it is almost undetectable.

Alex Martin, founder of the "Save The Nolichucky" Facebook page, was raised two miles from the river. He is adamant that any amount of ammonia discharged into the river is too much.

"Pollution may be bought and sold like a commodity in many parts of this country, but Greene County residents are not going to stand for it," he said.

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