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Screven County plant to stop using chemicals that spark concern

The Ogeechee River
The Ogeechee River(WRDW)
Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 11:39 AM EST
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SYLVANIA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Milliken has promised to stop using a controversial type of chemical at its Longleaf facility a few miles southwest of Sylvania on the banks of the Ogeechee River.

The chemicals are called “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” — PFAs for short. They’re also known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in nature.

Milliken will stop using the chemicals in its facilities by December and is eradicating these chemicals from two product lines at facilities worldwide.

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper discovered the chemicals in the river, then produced and publicly shared sample evidence to indicate the chemicals were being discharged by Milliken in fall of 2020, according to the organization. The information was shared with the public and with Georgia Environmental Protection Division along with a request to require Milliken to conduct a full-scale study before issuing a new permit.

“This is a major step in removing pollutants and contaminants from all of our waterways,” said Damon Mullis, executive director of the nonprofit. “We are pleased our work on this issue gained enough public attention to encourage a change in company practices.”

Mullis said the organization will continue to monitor for compliance.

Because they don’t break down, the chemicals accumulate in living organisms, including humans. Studies show links to thyroid and liver problems, obesity, high cholesterol, low birth weight and certain cancers. There are currently no national standards for acceptable levels of contamination.

The Screven County plant, formerly known as King America Finishing, makes fire-retardant fabric. Regulators discovered in 2011 that it had been dumping wastewater into the Ogeechee River for years without a permit.

Mullis said in 2020 that his group had recently tested fish downriver from the plant and found detectable levels of PFAS in fish.

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