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MDE to sue Verso

February 19th, 2020 by WCBC Radio

The State of Maryland, through the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), Wednesday issued notice that it intends to bring a lawsuit in federal court against the owner of the Luke Paper Mill for seepages into the North Branch Potomac River that threaten public health and the environment.

A black substance that may include contaminants from caustic and corrosive “pulping liquor,” coal ash or other undiscovered sources continues to seep from a riverbank at the paper mill site and into the river. MDE intends to file suit under federal hazardous waste law to stop the discharge and require an appropriate cleanup.

Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles provided notice of the intent to sue in a letter to officials at Verso Luke LLC and its parent company, Verso Corporation. In December, MDE and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Allegany County alleging multiple violations of environmental laws. That suit seeks an order requiring Verso to stop discharging pollution into Maryland waters, post warning signs, remediate any harm caused by the discharges and pay civil penalties.

A federal lawsuit represents the next step in an ongoing investigation and enforcement action. It would build upon the suit in state court by addressing, in addition to water pollution, a full range of potential impacts including any contamination of the land, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

“Maryland is taking this necessary step to protect public health and the Potomac River with the hope that it will accelerate the beneficial and productive reuse of the site,” said Secretary Grumbles. “We cannot allow continued seepage into the river that puts our communities and ecosystems at risk.”

“Seepage into the Potomac River from the paper mill jeopardizes the health of fish and wildlife, and the health of citizens,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. “We intend to file suit in federal court to halt further damage and force the company to take action to repair the damage that has been done.”

The paper mill is located in Luke, Maryland, and includes land across the river in West Virginia. Paper products were manufactured at the location from 1888 until the mill’s closure last June.

In April 2019, an angler observed and reported to the State of Maryland that “pure black waste” was entering the North Branch Potomac River near the mill, the notice of intent letter states. The letter describes MDE’s response to that and other reports of seepages, including sampling that showed high pH levels, high sulfur and sodium contents and metals such as mercury and boron.

The discharge appears to include “white,” “green” or “black” liquor, or some combination of the “pulping liquors” that are created and sometimes reused as part of the paper-making process. Pulping liquors are considered caustic and corrosive materials that can cause severe skin and eye burns and respiratory problems.

The pulping liquors were stored in tanks on the West Virginia side of the river. In November, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued an order to Verso to empty the tanks on their side of the river. In response, Verso piped material from the tanks in West Virginia to tanks in Maryland, the letter states, adding that MDE’s environmental consultant took samples of that material and found a high pH level.

The analysis of the seepage also found metals associated with coal ash. Also, petroleum odor and liquid that was observed show the need to consider wastes from sources other than pulping liquor, the letter states.

Starting April 2019, MDE directed Verso to determine the source of the seepage and take steps to contain and remove the discharge. Verso submitted a report on field work done by a contractor and, in February, submitted to MDE a “Remedial Investigation & Corrective Action Plan” describing the company’s next investigative steps, but the seepage continues.

The letter also states that MDE, through counsel, directed Verso to put up signs in the vicinity of the seepage stating: “Keep Out, No Trespassing, Hazardous Materials Present, Do Not Drink of Have Contact with the Water in the Immediate Area.” Verso’s counsel advised that the company had put up signs stating, “Restricted Area, Do Not Enter,” in the vicinity of the discharge, but would not put up signs with the language directed by MDE.

6 Responses to “MDE to sue Verso”

  1. February 19, 2020 at 6:39 pm, Brian said:

    Now I understand why Verso has been able to sell Most of the other paper mills that have been closed and are now reopening except this one.


  2. February 19, 2020 at 9:21 pm, Dandy Don said:

    The reality is this: If Verso was still open, this would not be an issue.

    At the same time, black
    liquor would be entering
    the river as it has for at least the last 50 years. When the sewer line was put in along the river in the late 1980s, the black liquor was rather evident as the foundation was dug.

    This is nothing new. To pretend it hasn’t been happening for years is simply not true.

    If Verso was still in operation, there would not be a law suit.

    When the sewer line along the river was put in the late 80s


  3. February 20, 2020 at 4:20 am, Ken said:

    So, you support companies tearing up our homes as long as they provide temporary jobs?

    Why don’t you take a trip over to Carlos, maybe you can bring the family for a picnic.


  4. February 20, 2020 at 7:41 am, mac said:

    Remember all of the chatter throughout the summer of State and Local officials “working” to find a buyer for the mill. This obviously will never happen and, at this point in time, Verso probably couldn’t give the plant away.
    The law suit will happen and become a dog and pony show very quickly as motions are filed for delay after delay. At some point in the future some token payoff will be offered and everyone will declare themselves to be the winner.
    It would be much better to demolish the entire facility and clean, clean, clean up the site. Verso should pick up the tab. They must still hold deed.


  5. February 20, 2020 at 10:21 am, Brian said:

    When the state of Maryland gets done with this. They’re coming for AES Warrior Run. And if possible close down ATK for letting something go in the river. And any industry that is in Maryland. Or has water that goes into Maryland.


    • February 20, 2020 at 10:32 am, Ken said:

      Brian said: “And if possible close down ATK for letting something go in the river.”

      It’s not often anyone advocates to let companies dump whatever they want into our water supply. That’s a pretty brave statement you just made there Brian.


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