A new “Dirty Dozen” report by the Georgia Water Coalition points out pollution in Gordon County’s waterways and downstream.
The report notes PFAS in area rivers due to upstream manufacturers releasing them into the water supply. These chemicals are widely unregulated, and pose a serious threat.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are “widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time.”
They are also known as “forever chemicals” because unlike most substances, they don’t break down in the environment. When people drink water containing these PFAS, they can face serious health issues.
The EPA notes numerous health consequences to exposure, from reproductive and developmental issues to increased rates of cancer to interference with the immune system and hormone levels. These chemicals are found in the Oostanaula and Conasauga, which have historically supplied water to Calhoun along with other communities.
As of 1980, due to upstream pollution from Dalton’s flourishing carpet industry, Calhoun had spent millions on securing a new water supply aside from the Oostanaula. Rome has also since stopped taking its water from the Oostanaula, and has spent $99.4 million dollars trying to clean up its drinking water.
PFAS in the water supply appear to originate from carpet manufacturers, who have faced suits from the City of Rome as well as both Gadsden and Centre, Al., and class action lawsuits by citizens in Rome and Summerville. Those downstream of Dalton, which produces around 90% of the world’s carpet, face the brunt of PFAS due to releases from plants that use them.
In Gordon County, there are two monitoring sites which are tested for PFAS: the Mauldin Road Water Plant and the Brittany Drive Water Plant. Mauldin Road pulls from surface water while Brittany Drive pulls from groundwater.
Both sites show amounts of PFAS in the supply, with Brittany Drive being the more contaminated of the two, according to data by the Georgia EPD. Testing sites in both Rome and Dalton also show contamination from PFAS.
According to the report, Georgia is one of fourteen states without regulations regarding discharges of PFAS.
“Meanwhile, PFAS continue to pollute our drinking water,” says a press report from Joe Cook at the GWC, “because Georgia’s environmental regulators have not placed limits on how much of these contaminants can be discharged to our rivers.”
The EPA does intend to begin restricting those discharges as of 2022, but the “forever chemicals” are already there.
Another locally-important issue concerns the long-debated poultry houses. According to the GWC report, manure from chicken producers flows downstream to reservoirs in the Coosa River system and can cause issues with algal blooms, which threaten drinking water supplies.
The Calhoun Times has closely followed the fight for and against those chicken houses, which ended with a closed loophole in county code. The County Commission amended the Unified Land Development Code after a long poultry house moratorium, ensuring that further operations get close scrutiny from the county.
The outcome did not come without a fight both for and against the moratorium and amendments.
“Stand against greed. No toxification without representation,” Al Stone of Environmental Defense of Georgia (EDOG), a group of concerned citizens, said.
A former chemical engineer and Sonoraville resident, Jennifer Beason, was concerned about air quality and suggested a local environmental impact study.
Others were against modifying the county ordinances.
“In a nation where only 1% of the people are producing all the food for the whole nation, plus other parts of the world, it takes industrial farming ... it takes big farms,” Mark Owens, a local poultry house contractor, said. “These chickens have to be raised somewhere before they get to the restaurants and grocery stores.”
“If you want to go ahead and stop the future poultry farms in Georgia and Gordon County, this ordinance with the current changes would do it,” said local business owner Adam Williamson. “Having built and gone though the process building a new farm, looking at this current ordinance, it’s going to be near impossible. So this is a good way to stop it if that’s what your goal is.”
Still, the commission unanimously voted to close the loophole and end the moratorium in one fell swoop.
“We first looked at our current ordinance, and at it is written,” County Administrator Jim Ledbetter said at the County Commission’s early Dec. meeting. “It contains 11 design criteria, it requires a nutrient waste plan, it cannot operate as a nuisance — and those are legal terms.”
While the poultry houses have been pecked to death for now, the threat of health issues downstream may rear its head if the chicken debate were to pick up steam again.
The full “Dirty Dozen” list is as follows:
Chattahoochee & Ocmulgee Rivers:♦ Coal ash at multiple Georgia Power Company fossil fuel plants pollutes groundwater in Cobb, Coweta, Carroll and Monroe counties.
Ogeechee River:♦ A three-year delay in updating pollution control permit allows the continued discharge of dangerous chemicals in Screven County.
Okefenokee Swamp:♦ Proposed heavy mineral sands mine in Charlton County threatens one of Georgia’s natural wonders.
St. Simons Sound:♦ The Golden Ray shipwreck is gone, but the extent of damage to Georgia’s coast still must be evaluated.
Groundwater:♦ A 30-year-old Superfund site in Brunswick still leaches toxins into groundwater and monitoring data suggests those toxins are migrating to neighboring properties.
Georgia’s Coast:♦ Georgia is one of the most vulnerable and least prepared states when it comes to dealing with effects of climate change, but Georgia’s elected officials have largely failed to address the issue.
Ocmulgee River:♦ A proposed plastics rendering plant near Macon touted as a solution to plastics pollution is really part of the problem.
Chattahoochee River:♦ Since a family pet died from coming in contact with cyanobacteria while swimming in Bull Sluice Lake in Roswell, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has identified spots on West Point Lake and Lake Harding with the same harmful algal blooms caused by excessive nutrients.
Whitewater Creek:♦ Dirty stormwater runoff from a large mixed-use development is muddying a historic Fayette County creek and lake, forcing homeowners and Flint Riverkeeper to file a lawsuit to stop the pollution.
Flint River:♦ Jet fuel and sewage spills repeatedly foul the Flint that flows beneath Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Advocates say it’s high time these needless spills stopped.
Coosawattee River:♦ In Gordon County a proposal to build a 24-house mega chicken farm has prompted homeowners to plead with their county commission to protect their property values, well water and their river.
Conasauga-Oostanaula:♦ Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from carpet mills are haunting Northwest Georgians forcing downstream water providers like the City of Rome to spend millions to remove the harmful chemicals from drinking water. To date, the state has failed to regulate these chemicals.
For more information and to view the full report, visit gawater.org/resources/dirty-dozen.