Verso to pay $ 250,000 after a fish dies in the Escanaba River

The Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy today announced a settlement with Verso Corp. concerning violations of the national system for the elimination of pollutant discharges at the company’s Escanaba plant.

The permit violations relate to a release of “black liquor” at the Verso paper mill wastewater treatment facility on August 6, 2020, which resulted in the death of fish in the Escanaba River downstream of the factory.

The mill generates black liquor – a high concentration organic pollutant – as a by-product of its process of turning pulpwood into pulp for the mill’s artisanal papermaking process. Typically, black liquor is concentrated and burnt as a source of energy.

Under the settlement, the Ohio-based company will pay more than $ 244,451 in civil penalties and natural resource damage and make spill prevention and containment improvements at its facilities to ensure the protection of the Escanaba River and of Lake Michigan.

The river empties into Lake Michigan south of the plant.

“It is important that facilities properly manage, contain and control these very potent pollutants to prevent the degradation of surface water that can lead to the death of fish,” said Tom Asmus, EGLE Environmental Quality Analyst in the Marquette District Office. of the agency in Marquette. “These efforts are necessary to protect our rivers, lakes and streams, and the resources and recreational opportunities they provide.”

Failure to comply with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits can result in significant fines. Under the Clean Water Act, the NPDES program controls point source releases of pollutants into United States waters. Verso operates under the principles of a permit to discharge treated wastewater into the river.

After fishermen reported dead fish in the river, staff from EGLE’s Water Resources Division and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division investigated the site of the fish’s death. , which covered an approximately 3 mile section of the Escanaba River, extending from Dam No.1. 2 at the mouth of the river.

“The investigation included a fish mortality assessment, a river assessment and dissolved oxygen monitoring,” Asmus said. “After investigation and discussions with Verso staff, EGLE determined that a catastrophic failure of the plant line had resulted in a large amount of black liquor entering and flooding the plant. wastewater treatment plant, resulting in fish deaths and violations of pollutant discharge permit limits. “

When the partially treated wastewater from the plant reached the river, oxygen was extracted from the water, depriving the ecosystem of dissolved oxygen. This has resulted in the deaths of many fish representing at least a dozen species, including northern pike, bass, walleye and other sport fish.

The Escanaba River, a popular destination for anglers, paddlers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, stretches 52 miles through parts of Marquette and Delta counties.

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